Practice makes perfect? Upcoming MN teen driver rules among toughest in region

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Some upcoming new rules mean young Minnesotans accelerating toward their provisional driver's license will face some of the most stringent requirements in the Midwest.

Come Jan. 1, the 16- and 17-year-old wannabe drivers (already with a learner's permit) who want to get their restricted license will be required to conduct more practice hours behind the wheel, while keeping track of that time with a detailed log which a parent or guardian must sign, according to the Department of Public Safety.

These upcoming rules are putting a squeeze on driving schools, the Star Tribune says. In addition to the practice hours behind the wheel with a licensed adult, teens have to complete training with a certified behind-the-wheel instructor. The hopeful drivers want to get that certified instructor time in before Jan. 1 – so they won't be subject to more time in a car with their parents (or other licensed adult), the paper says.

That means the state's driving schools are now getting a sudden flood of appointments, the Star Tribune reports.

The increased hours are part of an effort to curb road accidents in which teens are behind the wheel.

The Department of Public Safety says traffic crashes are the second-leading cause of death among teens in Minnesota, killing more than 30 each year, partly because they are "prone to making simple driving errors, often while speeding."

New year, new rules

Here are the current rules, and then what's changing.

Previously, the learner needed 30 hours of behind-the-wheel practice time (one-third of that while the sun is down) with a licensed driver over the age of 21 in order to be eligible for the road test.

In less than a month, that number will be bumped up by at least 33 percent, according to the Department of Public Safety. And that's only if a parent/guardian attends a special class. If they don't, then the time required practicing with a licensed adult goes up even more.

The two options:

  • A parent/guardian attends a "supplemental parent class" (which the Star Tribune says is 90 minutes) and the teen only has to spend 40 hours practicing with a licensed adult (15 must be at night).
  • Don't attend the class, and the teen must spend 50 hours behind the wheel (with 15 still at night).

In addition, a detailed practice log must be kept.

This is the supervised driving log. It requires the date, how many hours were driven (both during the day and at night), and which skills were practiced. A parent/guardian has to sign the sheet once the required time is complete, and the teen has to turn it in when they go to take their road test.

How about our neighbors?

The time behind the wheel, combined with the mandatory driving log, means Minnesota's requirements will be among the highest in the immediate region.

Here's a look at how other neighboring states handle young teen drivers looking for a restricted license (between a learner's permit and a full, unrestricted option).

Wisconsin – Official rules

Learner's permit age: 15 years and 6 months, or older.

Behind-the-wheel minimum for restricted license test: 30 hours of driving, with 10 hours at night.

Restricted license age: Available starting at age 16.

Unrestricted license age: 18 years old.

North Dakota – Officials rules

Learner's permit age: 14-15 years old.

Behind-the-wheel minimum for restricted license test: 50 hours of driving if you're under 16 years old.

Restricted license age: Available starting at 15 years old.

Unrestricted license age: 16 years old.

South Dakota – Official rules

Learner's permit age: 14 years old.

Behind-the-wheel minimum for restricted license test: None, but must hold learner's permit for 180 days with no traffic violations in the past six months.

Restricted license age: Available starting 90-180 days after getting a learner's permit.

Unrestricted license age: 16 years old.

Iowa – Official rules

Learner's permit age: 14 years old.

Behind-the-wheel minimum for restricted license test: 20 hours, with two hours at night.

Restricted license age: 16 years old.

Unrestricted license age: 17 years old.

Illinois – Official rules

Learner's permit age: 15 years old.

Behind-the-wheel minimum for restricted license test: 50 hours, with 10 at night.

Restricted license age: 16 years old.

Unrestricted license: 18 years old.

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