Province toughens laws for new drivers 

Longer learner and novice driving periods now in effect

Responding to the growing number of driving deaths in the Lower Mainland and around the province among young drivers, the B.C. government has brought in tougher restrictions for young drivers, effective Oct. 6.

The changes have no grandfather clause, which means they will affect all drivers still in the Learner’s phase, including young drivers that were licensed before the new restrictions were put into place.

"We have made significant progress in reducing the new driver crash rate, but we have to do more," said Solicitor General Rich Coleman. "Police, parents, communities and the public have told us they support stronger measures for young drivers, and we have taken action. We are following up on our New Era commitment to make our streets safer by improving on an already successful program."

The first graduated licensing program was introduced in 1998, and was an immediate success. In its first two years of operation, the new driver crash rate was reduced by nearly 26 per cent.

However, despite this reduction, new drivers are still a major factor in driving accidents across the province. In 2001, one in four crashes of novice drivers resulted in a fatality or injury, compared to one in six among experienced drivers.

And although new drivers only account for seven per cent of the driving population, they are involved in 16 per cent of all accidents involving injury or fatality.

The province believes that inexperience and exuberance is a contributing factor – not to mention the recent phenomena of street racing in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver.

Under the new graduated licensing program:

• The Learner stage will be extended from six months to one year (or nine months with ICBC-approved driver education. Alberta also recently adopted a similar restriction.

• All Learners must be accompanied by a supervisor age 25 or older, up from 19 years old under the previous restrictions. This means that the supervisor will more likely be from outside a new drivers’ peer group.

• The Learner’s licence will expire in two years rather than one year. Drivers will also have to re-write the knowledge test if a licence expires.

• The Novice stage will last 24 months, up from 18 months. As a result novice drivers will have to complete 24 consecutive months of prohibition-free driving before qualifying to apply for a Class 5 or 6 road test. If a driver receives a prohibition during that period, the driver will have to start over.

• A prohibition is defined as two "average" violation tickets (e.g. speeding, unsafe passing), or one infraction that involves alcohol or dangerous driving.

• Novice drivers will now only be able to carry one passenger (immediate family members are exempt), unless supervised by a licensed driver at least 25 years old.

• Learner and Novice drivers must continue to display "L" and "N" signs on the back of their vehicles, and must have zero blood alcohol content while driving.

Chris Harvey of the Whistler Driving School believes the changes are positive, although he does see a possibility that the new restrictions will make it more difficult for some new drivers to find work.

"It’s tougher driving out there, a lot different than when we were younger," said Harvey. "Back then we drove larger cars, and now they are all driving smaller cars, faster cars, and getting into bigger accidents, with more death and injuries."

Young drivers in Whistler are generally pretty good, said Harvey, and understand not to drink and drive. "Some pick up a few bad habits from their parents, but most of them have the basics right," he said.

That said, many of Harvey’s students are older, in their early 20s. Many of these drivers came to Whistler from places like Ontario, and never bothered getting a driver’s licence.

Although they are older and arguably more mature, young adults will have to put in between 33 and 36 months as a Learner and a Novice before they can apply for any kind of professional licence, or drive without restrictions.

"That’s not going to help some people that need a licence to find a job," said Harvey.

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