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New York's rules of the road for young drivers

In the wake of several recent deadly crashes involving teenagers here in Western New York, we wanted to hear from driving safety experts.

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — The so-called 100 deadliest days of the year for young drivers run from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

But in the wake of several recent deadly crashes involving teenagers here in Western New York, we wanted to hear from driving safety experts.

Prior to the pandemic, AAA driving instructor Michael Formanowicz says there was no waitlist for the courses they offer. Now there's a shortage of instructors and about 40 people on a waitlist to take the course. 

"There's not a lot of big driving schools around, and I think a lot of people are having the same problem we have just trying to hire," Formanowicz said. 

That's impacting drivers as young as 16 who want to take the course. In New York State, drivers can get their permit at that age. However, they must have a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old with them at all times. 

Six months after getting their permit, they are eligible to get their 'DJ,' or junior license, only after taking the road test. 

Before they can even take that, there are only two things required: take a five-hour course, and have their parents sign off on 50 hours of supervised driving. 

"After time and experience, they'll become better drivers, and then they get more privileges behind the wheel," Formanowicz said. 

That is exactly why even someone with a junior license still must have a person who's 21 or older in the car with them, among other restrictions. 

"You can't drive after 9 at night, unless it's for work or an accredited school course," Formanowicz said. "To me, obviously I'd like to see more. State driver's (education) has 24 hours of classroom and 24 hours of in-car experience, which is certainly a lot more than just the five-hour course. Yeah, definitely could be. It could be longer."

That state driver's education course is not required.

Formanowicz says about 10 to 12 school districts offered driver's education courses before the pandemic, but now a majority of those are being taught over Zoom, with parents becoming the driving instructors.

Anyone who takes the optional course can get their graduated driver's license, also known as a class 'D' license, at 17. That's instead of waiting until they're 18, which is what people with the junior license have to do. 

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