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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
Attorney • (888) 295-7409

Teenage Drivers in Alabama

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Okay, so many of my eldest son’s friends are getting to that age (14, 15, and 16). I had two parents ask me about the new teen driving laws in Alabama. One asked if my son had started driving, and I responded, "no, he’s only 14." Apparently, many parents are allowing their children to begin to learn to drive before they obtain their LEARNER’S LICENSE. This begs the question, "Why do they need to learn to drive BEFORE they get a LEARNER’S LICENSE?" Isn’t that the purpose of the LEARNER’S LICENSE?

So, here is a compilation of some of the laws regarding this subject in Alabama. First, Here is the statute regarding a LEARNER’S LICENSE:

Section 32-6-8

Temporary instruction and learner’s licenses.

(a) Any person 16 years of age or older who, except for his or her lack of instruction in operating a motor vehicle, would otherwise be qualified to obtain a driver’s license under this article may apply for a learner’s license, and the Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, may issue the license upon a form which shall be provided by the Director of Public Safety, entitling the applicant, while having the license in his or her immediate possession, to drive or operate a motor vehicle upon the highways for a period of four years, except when operating a motorcycle, the person shall be accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years of age and actually occupying a seat beside the driver. At the time of applying for the license, the applicant shall pay to the Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, a fee of twenty dollars ($20), and the Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, shall give the applicant a learner’s license therefor on a form to be provided by the Director of Public Safety. The temporary instruction license may be renewed only by order of the Director of Public Safety, and in no case shall the original license be renewed or extended more than once. The Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, shall not issue the Stage I temporary instruction license until the applicant has undergone the same examination that a person applying for a Stage II or Stage III driver’s license is required by law to undergo, with the exception of the driving test, and produced a certificate to that effect signed by the proper examining officer.

(b) Any person not less than 15 but under 16 years of age may obtain a Stage I learner’s license to learn to operate a motor vehicle upon application to the Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, which license shall entitle the person to operate a motor vehicle when he or she is accompanied by a parent or his or her legal guardian or a person who is age 21 or over who is duly licensed in this state as a motor vehicle operator or when accompanied by a licensed or certified driving instructor who is actually occupying a seat beside the motor vehicle operator. The application for the Stage I learner’s license shall be accompanied by a payment of a fee of twenty dollars ($20), to be distributed as provided in Section 32-6-5. The age of the applicant shall be substantiated by the applicant filing with the department a certified copy of his or her birth certificate. A Stage I learner’s license issued under this subsection shall be in such form as the Director of Public Safety may prescribe; it shall expire in four years; or when the holder subsequently applies for and receives a Stage II or Stage III driver’s license. The Stage II or Stage III driver’s license shall be issued for the remainder of the four year life of the learner’s license at no additional fee, the certificate thereof shall be prima facie evidence that the license holder was 15 years of age or older on the date of its issuance. The license may be suspended or revoked in the same manner and for the same causes as a driver’s license and may also be revoked for any violation of the terms and conditions on which it was issued. The Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, shall not issue such a license to any person until the applicant has undergone the same examination that a person applying for a Stage II or Stage III driver’s license is required by law to undergo, with the exception of the driving test, and has produced a certificate to that effect signed by the proper examining officer.

(c) As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:

(1) STAGE I. A learner’s permit.

(2) STAGE II. A regular driver’s license with restrictions based on age and the date of issuance.

(3) STAGE III. An unrestricted driver’s license.

(Acts 1939, No. 181, p. 300; Code 1940, T. 36, §64; Acts 1951, No. 880, p. 1519; Acts 1959, No. 346, p. 935; Acts 1973, No. 1289, p. 2201; Acts 1988, 1st Sp. Sess., No. 88-729, p. 125, §1; Acts 1993, No. 93-769, p. 1538, §1; Act 2002-408, p. 1026, §3; Act 2006-554, p. 1279, §1; Act 2010-735, p. 1850, §§1, 2.)

Clearly, a person under the age of fifteen is NOT allowed to drive a motor vehicle on the public roadways of Alabama. What is the rush for parents to allow their children to drive before they have a LEARNER’S LICENSE? Is a year not enough time to learn to drive?

What will the consequences be if they have a wreck? Well, for one, they could injure someone else or themselves. Second, your insurance policy probably will not cover them if they damage someone else’s property or injure that person (or your own car for that matter). Third, you could be held responsible for the damage and be personally liable. Are these not enough reasons? Well, then, how about these two statutes:

Section 32-5-64

Persons under 16 years of age operating motor vehicles – Prohibited; driver training programs.

Any person under the age of 16 years who shall drive or operate any motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be dealt with as provided by the juvenile laws of this state. This section shall not apply to any student enrolled in a driver training program approved by the State Superintendent of Education or the Director of Public Safety while driving or operating a motor vehicle pursuant to the instructional program. However, no student in any driver training program who is under 16 years of age shall drive or operate any motor vehicle unless accompanied by a licensed driver who is 21 years of age or older.

(Code 1923, §3329; Acts 1927, No. 347, p. 348; Code 1940, T. 36, §55; Acts 1949, No. 517, p. 754, §17; Act 2010-735, p. 1850, §1.)
Section 32-5-65

Persons under 16 years of age operating motor vehicles – Owner of motor vehicle permitting.

Any owner or person in charge of any motor vehicle who permits any child under the age of 16 years to operate such motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state, except as provided by Section 32-5-64, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be punished as provided by Section 32-5-311.

(Code 1923, §3330; Acts 1927, No. 347, p. 348; Code 1940, T. 36, §56; Acts 1949, No. 517, p. 754, §18.)

IT’S A CRIME TO ALLOW THEM TO DRIVE WITHOUT AT LEAST A LEARNER’S LICENSE!!!

Okay, so now that we know fourteen (14) is too young to drive. What about those children (yes, they are still children) who are sixteen (16) and have their license? Alabama has enacted laws to restrict what teenagers can do while driving. Here is the statute governing teenagers, and I will break it up for you.

Section 32-6-7.2

Restrictions on issuance to persons under 18 years of age.

(a) A person who is under the age of 18 may not apply for a Stage II restricted regular driver’s license until the person has held a Stage I learner’s license issued pursuant to Section 32-6-8 or a comparable license issued by another state for at least a six-month period.

(b) In addition to any other requirements of this chapter, if the applicant for a driver’s license is 16 years of age, he or she shall submit to the Department of Public Safety the following:

(1) A verification form provided by the Department of Public Safety signed by a parent or legal guardian consenting to the licensure of the applicant.

(2) A verification form provided by the Department of Public Safety signed by a parent, legal guardian, or licensed or certified driving instructor certifying that the applicant has completed a minimum of 30 hours of behind-the-wheel driving practice, or submission of a certificate of completion from the State Department of Education that the applicant has passed a driver’s education course approved by the State Department of Education.

Okay, so if your child is under the age of eighteen (18), they can get their license after they have had a LEARNER’S PERMIT for six (6) months unless they are not sixteen (16) yet. Clearly, the State thinks it only takes six (6) months for them to learn to drive so you shouldn’t think they need to start before fifteen (15) because that gives them a year. (not that the State has all the answers, but usually, thought has been put into the rationale).

(c) A person who is issued a regular driver’s license who is age 17 and has been licensed for less than six months or who is age 16 shall be deemed to have a Stage II restricted driver’s license. The person may not operate a vehicle under any of the following conditions:

(1) Between 12:00 o’clock midnight and 6:00 o’clock a.m. unless one of the following exceptions applies:

a. The licensee is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

b. The licensee is accompanied by a person who is a licensed driver and is at least 21 years of age or the consent of a parent or legal guardian of the driver is given.

c. The licensee is driving to or from a place where the licensee is employed or works.

d. The licensee is driving to or from a school sponsored event.

e. The licensee is driving to or from an event sponsored by a religious organization.

f. The licensee is driving for the purpose of a medical, fire, or law enforcement related emergency.

g. The licensee is driving to or from a place where the licensee participates in hunting or fishing activities. In order for this particular exception to apply, the licensee must have in his or her immediate possession a valid hunting or fishing license for the activity.

(2) If there is more than one passenger in the vehicle not including the parents, legal guardians of the licensee, accompanying family members, or a licensed driver who is at least 21 years of age.

(3) While operating any handheld communication device that is nonessential to the functioning of the vehicle.

So, if the child is sixteen (16), or is seventeen (17) but has only been licensed for less than six (6) months, that child CANNOT drive with more than one (1) other person unless the person(s) are family members or 21 years of age AND licensed. Also, and one of my soap boxes, that child CANNOT text while driving or use the phone while driving. NO CELL PHONES FOR THESE INDIVIDUALS!!!

What are the consequences of violating this section? Reading below, they really are not too severe:

(d) A violation of subsection (c) shall not result in a suspension of the person’s driver’s license, but shall extend the time period for six months that the person is subject to the restrictions of subsection (c) before the person is eligible to be designated as an unrestricted driver’s license holder or until age 18.

(e) The driver’s license of any person who is driving with restricted privileges as provided in subsection (c) who during such time is convicted of a second moving traffic violation or is convicted of failure to give information or render aid, racing, fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, reckless driving, illegal passing, driving on the wrong side of the road, or any other offense where four or more points are assessed and other violations as designated by rules or regulations promulgated pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, shall be automatically suspended for 60 days unless the Alabama Rules of the Road provide a more serious penalty, and the time period that the licensee is subject to the restrictions of subsection (c) shall be extended for six months from the date the person would otherwise be eligible to be designated as an unrestricted driver’s license holder or until age 18.

(f) The license possessed by any resident of this state who is 17 years of age shall be deemed a Stage III unrestricted driver’s license if the license has been issued for a period of six months or longer and the Department of Public Safety verifies that the license holder has not been convicted of a moving violation of the Alabama Rules of the Road within the preceding six months.

(g) This section shall not apply to the following:

(1) Any resident of this state age 16 years and over who is married or who is the head of a household.

(2) Any resident who has otherwise been legally relieved of minority.

(3) Any resident who is age 18 or over.

(h) A person who drives a motor vehicle in violation of the conditions imposed in subsection (c) shall be guilty of a traffic violation, but shall not be subject to any criminal penalties or court costs. No citation shall be issued for a traffic violation pursuant to this subsection unless the person is stopped by a law enforcement officer for a separate violation of law and issued a citation or warrant for the separate violation. Information concerning a violation pursuant to this subsection shall not be released to any party and shall not result in any points on a driver’s license record.

(i) The Department of Public Safety may promulgate reasonable rules and regulations to carry out and to aid in enforcement of this section and Sections 32-6-7.3 and 32-6-8.

(j) As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:

(1) STAGE I. A learner’s permit.

(2) STAGE II. A regular driver’s license with restrictions based on age and the date of issuance.

(3) STAGE III. An unrestricted driver’s license.

(Act 2002-408, p. 1026, §2; Act 2009-714, p. 2101, §1; Act 2010-735, p. 1850, §§1, 2.)

Finally, what about if your child is in one of these classes and is involved in an accident. This is the most popular question I receive given what I do for a living. Many people confuse criminal and civil liability. If one of these statutes is violated, it may only be a misdemeanor (as opposed to a felony), but it is still a crime – just a lessor one. However, for civil liability, you must prove the driver was negligent or wanton. Without getting too technical, here is what that means.

Negligence is:

1. A Duty;
2. A Breach of that Duty;
3. Proximate Causation (the breach of the duty caused the wreck); and
4. Damages.

So, if your child is fourteen or fifteen without a LEARNER’S LICENSE and they are involved in a wreck, it is fairly easy to prove the first two. However, proximate cause is a different story. Let’s say you have a 14 year old stopped at a red light, and someone rear-ends him. The fact that he was violating this statute and driving at 14 years of age did not cause the wreck. The other individual caused the wreck. The same goes for a sixteen (16) year old who is driving with three friends. If she is in a wreck, it does not necessarily mean that she is liable for any damage. The other party would have to prove that the fact that she was violating the statute led to the wreck, i.e.: she and her friends were cutting up, not paying attention, and the wreck occurred.

Wantonness, in lay terms, is just a higher level of negligence (gross negligence). Legally, it’s more complicated than that; however, this explains it best for most lay people.

Hopefully, this will help answer some questions. If you have further questions, feel free to give me or one of the attorneys at our firm a call. Also, if you want you or your children to be prepared in the event an accident occurs, or to help prevent an accident, download our Iphone App.

4 Comments

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  1. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thanks for the comment. Hopefully, parents will see this and know that kids don’t need to start at 14.

  2. Dan says:
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    Jon, thanks. I was thinking of starting for the Dec. date and Teri had told me to hold off. I was going to go ahead but thanks to reading your comments, I’ll wait. Mucho gracias.

  3. Jon Lewis says:
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    De nada! I’m glad we could be of some help.