Monday, December 29, 2014

Hit and Run

Today in MD, an Episcopal Bishop was involved in a Hit and Run when she fatally hit a bike rider and fled the scene.  She came back 20 minutes latter so she claims it was not a hit and run.  This prompted me to write on the NC law on Hit and Run.  Here is a great review of the law by Shea Denning at the NC School of Government.

Hit and run is a term used to describe several felony and misdemeanor offenses set forth in G.S. 20-166, a statute in which neither the term “hit” nor “run” appears. G.S. 20-166 criminalizes a driver’s failure to stop at the scene of a crash in which the vehicle he or she is driving is involved, a driver’s failure to remain at the scene of such a crash, and a driver’s facilitating of the premature removal of his or her vehicle from the scene. The last type of violation was created in 2005 in response to the death of twenty-seven-year-old Stephen Gates.
In the early morning hours of October 4, 2003, Gates, a reporter for the Tar Heel Sports Network, was changing a tire on his car on the side of Interstate 40 near Hillsborough, NC, when he was struck by Cadillac Escalade driven by Emily Caveness. See Benjamin Niolet, Jury Rejects Hit and Run, The News & Observer, Nov. 13, 2004 (as modified October 22, 2005) (The facts set forth in this post relating to the accident in which Jones was killed and the ensuing criminal prosecutions are drawn from Niolet’s article.). The door to Gates’ car was ripped off by the impact, and Gates was killed. Caveness stopped her vehicle some distance from the crash. Rabah Samera, who had been asleep in the front passenger seat until the crash, got out of the car and saw that the front of the Escalade was mangled. Samera got into the driver’s seat and drove the Escalade to Raleigh, accompanied by Caveness and two other passengers who had been riding in the backseat of the car. Samera stopped at a well-lit gas station in Raleigh and saw, for the first time, blood on the car.
Caveness pled guilty to the misdemeanor offense of failing to report an accident pursuant to G.S. 20-166.1. (A post about that offense is available here.) She testified against Samera, who was tried for felony hit and run pursuant to G.S. 20-166. Since G.S. 20-166 requires the driver of a car involved in a crash in which a person is injured to stop and remain at the scene, and Samera was not driving at the time of the crash, the State apparently proceeded to trial on the theory that Samera aided and abetted Caveness in committing the offense. Samera was acquitted.
The year after Samera’s acquittal, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2005-460: “An Act to Make It Unlawful to Drive Away From or Otherwise Leave the Scene of a Motor Vehicle Accident in Certain Circumstances.” The Act amended G.S. 20-166 to require that the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident or collision remain “with the vehicle” at the crash scene and to prohibit a driver from “facilitat[ing], allow[ing], or agree[ing] to the removal of the vehicle from the scene.”
S.L. 2005-460 further enacted new G.S. 20-166.2, prohibiting the passenger of a vehicle involved in a crash from “willfully leav[ing] the scene of the accident by acting as the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident” and from “facilitat[ing], allow[ing], or agree[ing] to the removal of the vehicle from the scene.” G.S. 20-166.2, like G.S. 20-166, sets forth felony and misdemeanor offenses. A willful violation of G.S. 20-166.2(a) “is a Class H felony if the accident or collision is described in G.S. 20-166(a).” This cross reference raises a couple of interesting issues. First, G.S. 20-166 delineates felony and misdemeanor offenses depending upon whether a person was injured in the crash and whether the driver knew or had reason to know of that injury. Thus, the passenger’s level of culpability depends upon the driver’s knowledge, which is an unusual formulation. Furthermore, G.S. 20-166 was amended in 2008 to set forth in subsection (a) a Class F felony for a driver’s failure to stop or leaving the scene of a crash resulting in serious bodily injury or death. New G.S. 20-166(a1) sets forth a Class H felony for hit and run in crashes resulting in lesser injuries. No corresponding amendments were made in 2008 to G.S. 20-166.2, which continues to refer solely to subsection (a).
There are no appellate court decisions applying G.S. 20-166.2. Readers, if you have prosecuted or defended charges under this statute or have thoughts about whether its presence has altered the crash-scene conduct of drivers and passengers, we’d love to hear what you have to say.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Speeding Reduced to Improper Equipment

We have a new District Attorney starting in Wake County on January 1, 2015.  It is the District Attorney who sets the policy in each district with regard to the reduction of speeding tickets.  Up to this point in time, you have not been able to get a speeding ticket in Wake County reduced to Improper Equipment.  However, the word in the courthouse is that this is about to change.  It has not yet been stated what speeds and cases with received this reduction or whether or not your driving record with be a factor.  I will update this blog once these terms have been set my the new DA.  What we do know is that speeding tickets will become more expensive since there is an additional $50 Improper Equipment fee added to the court costs.  In addition, I anticipate the judges will add the statutory $25 fine for Improper Equipment.

Since we are now looking at improper equipments in Wake County, now is a good time to review an article written by Shea Denning of the NC School of Government in this issue.

In 2007, legislative action designed to stiffen penalties for drivers charged with speeding followed close on the heels of the “Speed Unlimited” series published in the News and Observer in May 2007. Among the News and Observer’s findings was that, in 2006, only 19 percent of drivers ticketed for speeding at 100 mph or more were convicted as charged. For the year ending June 30, 2006, the newspaper reported that four of five speeding drivers had charges dismissed or reduced or were given a prayer for judgment continued.
S.L. 2007-380 (S 925) addressed two of the more prominent issues raised in the newspaper’s report: pleas to improper equipment (an infraction) and the entry of prayers for judgment continued. For offenses committed on or after December 1, 2007, the act removed a violation of G.S. 20-123.2, the statute requiring that motor vehicles be equipped with a working speedometer, as a lesser included offense of charges of speeding in excess of 25 mph over the posted speed limit. It also enacted new G.S. 20-141(p), which barred the disposition of prayer for judgment continued for a driver charged with speeding more than 25 mph over the posted speed limit. The entry of a prayer for judgment continued (if the driver does not have other prayers for judgment continued within a certain time period) prevents a driver from suffering adverse collateral consequences for license and insurance purposes resulting from a speeding conviction or adjudication. Because, however, G.S. 20-141(p) refers to the offense with which a defendant is “charged” without further specification as to the stage of the proceedings at which the charges are to be determined, questions have arisen regarding just which charge counts for purposes of limiting a judge’s authority to enter a prayer for judgment continued. “Charged might mean the original offense charged, or it might instead refer to the offense upon which a defendant is tried or to which the defendant enters a plea of guilty or responsible.
The News and Observer followed up its 2007 series with a March 28, 2009, story, available here, in which it reported its analysis of more recent dispositions in speeding cases.  The article concluded that despite the 2007 legislation, courts were “still soft” on speeders. The article alleged that “[n]early 12 percent of those charged with driving more than 25 mph over the speed limit got breaks that legislators tried to outlaw,” and referenced pleas to improper equipment and the entry of prayers for judgment continued. The article also reported that in most districts, there had been a “surge” in cases in which the charges were reduced to “10 mph or less over the limit.”
As a result of the report and varying practice among judges and districts, questions have arisen regarding whether a judge may properly enter a prayer for judgment continued when a defendant is originally charged with speeding more than 25 mph over the speed limit but pleads to speeding 25 mph or less over the speed limit.
My view is that the charge properly considered by the judge is the charge to which the person pleads guilty or responsible or upon which the defendant is tried. If that charge differs from an earlier charge, then the earlier charge does not bind the judge’s sentencing discretion. Interpreting “charged” in G.S. 20-141(p) to refer to the charge at the time the case is heard in court comports with manner in which cases are prosecuted under state law. Pursuant to G.S. 7A-61, the district attorney is the official responsible for preparing the trial dockets and prosecuting all criminal actions requiring prosecution in the superior and district courts in his or her district. The prosecutor is authorized by G.S. 15A-922 to supersede a citation and all previous pleadings in a misdemeanor case by filing a statement of charges at any time before arraignment in district court. Thus, the prosecutor has the ultimate say regarding the charges upon which the defendant is tried. The prosecutor’s amendment of the charges stated on the citation by striking through the original speed and replacing it with a different speed is procedurally akin to the filing of a statement of charges, which “may charge the same offenses as the citation, criminal summons, warrant for arrest, or magistrate’s order or additional or different offenses.” In light of the district attorney’s prosecutorial authority, and his or her ability to supersede a citation as the state’s pleading in a misdemeanor case by filing a statement of charges, see G.S. 15A-922, it seems incongruous to construe “charged” in G.S. 20-141(p) as referring to a charge that has been amended by the official responsible for prosecuting the case.
Thus, if a defendant is originally charged with driving 81 mph in a 55 mph speed zone, the district attorney reduces the charge to 70 mph in a 55 mph speed zone, and the defendant pleads guilty to the latter — and lesser — charge, the judge may lawfully enter a prayer for judgment continued.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can I be charged with Driving While License revoked if I never had a license.

Great article on Driving while license revoked.  This was written by another attorney but I am posting it due to its relevance
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted laws is North Carolina General Statute 20-28, the offense of Driving While License Revoked.  Countless people have asked how it is possible for them to be charged with Driving While License Revoked, when they have never had a license.  Other people have come  with suspension letters from the Department of Motor Vehicles after they represented themselves and paid considerable amounts of money, with the hope that they would be able to obtain their license.  Most people mistakenly think that their issue is simple enough that can handle it without an attorney, but the offense of Driving While License Revoked is not as clear as it appears to be.  While it is a traffic ticket, it’s also a misdemeanor charge with serious penalties.  Upon first glance it appears to be a harmless ticket, but if it’s handled in the wrong manner, the consequences can be devastating.
Causes of suspension or revocation
First of all, it is important to understand what causes a person’s license to be revoked or suspended, and there are certainly several reasons that may contribute to the revocation.  Many times, it begins with something as simple as failing to appear in court for some minor traffic offense or failing to pay the fine, court costs, or applicable fees that were ordered to resolve a traffic offense where the person actually did appear in court and resolved the case.  In those instances, a person is indefinitely suspended which means that there is no definite period of revocation, and the license can be restored upon complying with the failure to appear or the failure to pay the ordered costs.   Other times, a revocation may result from a prior impaired driving conviction where there was a failure to comply with the terms and conditions of that conviction which requires among other things, a substance abuse assessment and the completion of any recommendations by that assessing agency.  Finally, being convicted of a “moving” violation during a period of suspension will also result in an additional period of revocation, and moving violations are not just convictions for speeding tickets.  Moving violations also include convictions for driving a vehicle without liability insurance.  The problem, however, is that many people don’t comply due to financial hardship, neglect or plain inattention, and they continue driving.  Inevitably, they are pulled over for some other traffic offense or they go through a license check, and then they are charged with the offense of Driving While License Revoked.  For some people, that initial charge of Driving While License Revoked is enough to encourage them to call an attorney for assistance to resolve these issues, while other people continue driving and accumulate more and more charges.
 Penalties and Consequences
So just how serious is the offense of Driving While License Revoked?  In North Carolina, the offense of Driving While License Revoked is a misdemeanor offense.  Under North Carolina law, the most serious misdemeanors are class A1 misdemeanors, and some of the most common A1 misdemeanors are Driving While Impaired, Assault on a Female, and Misdemeanor Child Abuse.  While a conviction for Driving While Impaired carries a maximum sentence of three years, the remaining A1 misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of 150 days.  The next most serious misdemeanors are class 1 misdemeanors which carry a maximum sentence of 120 days, followed by class 2 misdemeanors (60 days) and class 3 misdemeanors (20 days).  The most common class 1 misdemeanors are Misdemeanor Larceny, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Driving While License Revoked.  Some of the more serious class 2 misdemeanors are Simple Assault and Carrying a Concealed Weapon, while some of the most common class 3 misdemeanors are Shoplifting, Discharging a Firearm in City Limits, and Possession up Marijuna up to 1/2 ounce.  So why do I mention all of these other classes of misdemeanors and offenses?  I mentioned them to demonstrate that it is possible to receive a stiffer jail sentence for driving on a revoked license than it is to be convicted of assaulting someone, carrying a concealed handgun, or even possessing a small amount of marijuana.  Does that mean that every person who is charged with Driving While Revoked receives a jail sentence of 120 days?  No.  In fact, in the years that I’ve been practicing law I have only personally experienced one individual who received the maximum sentence of 120 days for the offense of Driving While License Revoked, and he represented himself instead of hiring an attorney.  I was later hired to appeal his case, and he was able to receive a probationary sentence.
In addition to the possibility of receiving an active sentence, the first conviction for Driving While Revoked will result in a suspension of one year for the first offense.  That definite suspension means that the DMV will not issue a license until after that one-year period has passed.  An additional two years will be added to that suspension for a second conviction, and a third conviction will result in a permanent revocation.  While a permanent suspension does not actually mean you will never be able to obtain a license, you will have to wait three years to apply for a license, and there is no guarantee that your license will be reinstated at that time.  I agree that we should all have a valid license before we operate a motor vehicle, but I also understand the necessity for people to be able to drive to take care of their families and to handle the countless responsibilities that our lives require us to fulfill.   A conviction of Driving While License Revoked includes serious consequences that sometimes result in unduly burdensome results.  As an attorney, I cannot change the law as it currently stands, but I can help you navigate your way through it, so that your rights are properly protected.  In fact, you may be closer to having your license reinstated that you realize.  Therefore, if you are charged with Driving While License Revoked, give us a call before you simply plead guilty or try to handle these cases by yourself.  Your ability to drive is just too important.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Texting While Driving in North Carolina

There is much talk about driving while texting.  The North Carolina law has many loop holes and is hard to prove.  Below is an article from WRAL about the issue.

— More than 3,000 people die and more than a quarter-million are injured in the U.S. each year in crashes involving texting while driving, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Despite the danger, many people still text behind the wheel, but punishing them isn’t always easy.
A recent study by Forbes Business found that 47 percent of adults admit they text while driving and that 58 percent of high school seniors text friends instead of paying attention to the road. Despite those numbers, few people are ever charged.
North Carolina is one of 40 states that have laws against texting while driving. In North Carolina, it is a primary offense, meaning drivers can get pulled over if an officer sees them texting on the road. But getting charged is one thing. Getting convicted isn't so simple.
Last year, 1,458 people were cited with texting while driving in Wake County – about 300 more than the previous year. In 2011, fewer than 900 drivers were cited. Interim Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum and other prosecutors say they hope those numbers will act as a deterrent.
“The more people that are aware that texting while driving is dangerous is better for the public, and the less people that do it, the safer the roads will be,” Mangum said.
Law enforcement officers hope to send the same message with more crackdowns on distracted drivers. During a recent campaign in Cary, 80 drivers were pulled over, but not everyone received a ticket.
WRAL Investigates found many drivers who were cited didn’t end up paying the price.
Christopher Lynn was cited for texting while driving, but his case was thrown out. He says he was looking at a map on his phone, not texting.
“Ultimately, the law is rather toothless,” Lynn said. “What I did was trace along the road I thought I was on (on the phone) … When I looked up, there was some lights behind me, and (the officer) said I was texting while driving.”
Of the 1,367 cases that were disposed of last year in Wake County, almost half of the drivers paid the $290 in fines and court costs. In many of the remaining cases, drivers fought and won.
“In all honesty, I could have accepted the charge, but why accept something that I didn’t do?” Lynn asked.
There's plenty of gray area in the law.
“The way the statute is written, it’s very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court,” White said. “In order to show you were using your phone to text or emailing, they would have to have a search warrant.”
If an officer asks to see the phone, the driver does not have to hand it over.
“You can decline,” White said.
In North Carolina, the texting law applies only to moving vehicles. Drivers who are legally stopped at a red light can text and email. Drivers who are in a moving vehicle cannot text or email, but they are allowed to type into their phone's GPS and search for contacts.
That distinction makes it tough on prosecutors.
“It’s hard for a police officer to tell if you’re inputting numbers or are you text messaging someone when you’re looking at your phone,” Mangum said.
The law is different for children under 18 and school bus drivers. They are not allowed to use cellphones at all unless it is an emergency.
Mangum says many drivers admit to texting when they get pulled over. If drivers fight the citation, it puts the state in a tough position.
“Obviously, as the Supreme Court just told us, we’re not going to get a search warrant every time someone’s been stopped using a mobile phone. That’s not a good use of the state’s limited resources,” he said.
While the number of texting cases will likely continue to increase in traffic court, proving it will continue to be a challenge.
“The problem with it was it was circumstantial, and unless you show an officer, ‘Hey, they is all my text messages within the last hour,’ it’s pretty hard to enforce,” Lynn said.
While texting does carry a fine and court costs, much like the seat belt law, drivers won't get points on their license. A bill that would have doubled the texting fine to $200 never made it out of committee this legislative session.

NC's texting while driving law

§ 20-137.4A. Unlawful use of mobile telephone for text messaging or electronic mail.
(a) Offense. - It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to:
(1) Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
(2) Read any electronic mail or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.
(a1) Motor Carrier Offense. - It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a commercial motor vehicle subject to Part 390 or 392 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone or other electronic device in violation of those Parts. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the use of hands-free technology.
(b) Exceptions. - The provisions of this section shall not apply to:
(1) The operator of a vehicle that is lawfully parked or stopped.
(2) Any of the following while in the performance of their official duties: a law enforcement officer; a member of a fire department; or the operator of a public or private ambulance.
(3) The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system.
(4) The use of voice operated technology.
(c) Penalty. - A violation of this section while operating a school bus, as defined in G.S. 20-137.4(a)(4), shall be a Class 2 misdemeanor and shall be punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00). Any other violation of this section shall be an infraction and shall be punishable by a fine of one hundred dollars ($100.00) and the costs of court.
No drivers license points or insurance surcharge shall be assessed as a result of a violation of this section. Failure to comply with the provisions of this section shall not constitute negligence per se or contributory negligence per se by the operator in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a vehicle. (2009-135, s. 2; 2012-78, s. 9.)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What vehilcles require a Commercial Drivers License

Not all commercial vehicles require the driver to have a Commercial Drivers License.  Likewise, some non commercial vehicles require a Commercial Drivers License.  See below for the requirements for each vehicle that requires the driver to have a Commercial Drivers License.

The DMV offers three types of Commercial Driver License CDL.

Commercial Class A
  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating, GVWR, of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle or vehicles being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Commercial Class B
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, and any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Commercial Class C
  • Any vehicle not described in Class A or B above but is: Designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or used in the transportation of hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be placarded under C.F.R., Part 172, Subpart F.

As a result, make sure you have the correct license for the type of vehicle you are driving.  Failure to do so could result in a citation for No Operators License.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Suspended NC Drivers License

There are many reasons your license may be revoked by the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.  Below is a list of issued for which the DMV may revoke your license.

The length of a driver’s license suspension depends on the reason it was suspended. Common causes for suspension and the length of the first suspension include:
First DWI offense 1 year
Second DWI offense 4 years
Third DWI offense Permanent
Refusing to take a breath or blood test 1 year
Death by vehicle (misdemeanor) 1 year
Death by vehicle (felony) Permanent
Obtaining a driver's license/permit using false information 1 year
Speeding and driving recklessly (same incident) 60 days
2 charges of driving recklessly in 12 months 1 year
Placing bets, watching, or loaning out a car for racing 3 years
Intentionally racing another vehicle 3 years
Speeding at least 15 MPH over the limit of 55 MPH
30 days
Speeding at least 15 MPH over the limit of 55 MPH (second offense) 60 days
Speeding at least 15 MPH over the limit of 55 MPH while avoiding arrest 1 year
Your license can also be suspended for:
  • Having 2 convictions of speeding (over 55 mph) in 12 months.
  • Having 1 conviction of speeding (over 55 mph) and 1 conviction of reckless driving in 12 months.
  • Part of a sentence or suspended court sentence that revokes your driving privileges.
  • A conviction for speeding over 75 mph.
NOTE: Some suspensions last until the driver meets certain requirements. For example, if your driver’s license is suspended for failing to pay child support, it cannot be reinstated until you have paid the money you owe.
Provisional License Suspensions
If you are younger than 18 years old, you face suspension of up to 6 months, depending on how many violations you’ve committed.

Driver’s License Points Suspension

One of the most common causes for a suspended North Carolina driver's license is the accumulation of driver’s license points. Your driving record shows the points currently accumulated against your NC driver’s license.
Points are put on your driving record for moving violations and other infractions. The amount of points you get will depend on the violation.
Once you receive 7 points, you may be required to attend a Driver Improvement Clinic. Completing this clinic will remove 3 points from your license. You can only attend a Driver Improvement clinic 1 time in a 5-year period. In order to reduce your points, you will need to qualify and complete a conference with a driver license hearing officer.
Your driver’s license will be suspended if you accumulate 12 points or more in 3 years (or 8 points or more in the 3 years following a license suspension). Suspension length is dependent upon the number of suspensions you’ve had:
  • First suspension: 60 days maximum.
  • Second suspension: 6 months maximum.
  • Any subsequent suspensions: 1 year.
One of the most common reasons for suspension is failure to pay your fines, or Failure to Comply and Failure to Appear in court.  Both of these suspensions will result in an permanent indefinete  suspension until you have either paid your court costs and fine or gone to court to resolve your citation.
With regard to the FTC, that issue can be resolved by paying the fine.   There is a court ordered $50 fee for any FTC.  The FTA can only be resolved by taking care of the citation.  There is an addition fee of $200 for the FTA.  If you have an FTA, you will usually want to hire an attorney to make sure it is resolved correctly to prevent any future suspension due to a moving violation while your license was revoked.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Getting a Ticket while on a provisional License in NC

I often get calls from drivers who are under the age of 18 who are driving on a graduated license with limitations as to time and number of passengers.  If this is the case, the typical procedure is to have the case continued until after the driver can get their full license after driving for 6 months.  Failure to do this will result in the limitations being extended an additional 6 months.

Below is a great article by Shea Denning of the the North Carolina School of Government on the limitations and also whether or not the limitations are making an impact on the death rate of young drivers.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. That’s why states no longer grant unrestricted driver’s licenses to teens once they turn 16, as they did when I was a kid. Instead, states grant driving privileges to teenagers under 18 only after they have been driving under a permit with supervision for a lengthy period of time, and, even then, only by degrees. Driver’s licenses issued to such teens typically restrict nighttime driving and/or the number of minors who may be present in the vehicle for some period of time after initial licensure. While many people readily accept the notion that teens are safer during the graduated licensing period–either because they aren’t driving unsupervised at night, because they don’t have a gaggle of friends in the car, or because they aren’t driving at all given the hassle associated with becoming licensed–they wonder whether the effects vanish once the teens are on their own.
First, let’s review North Carolina’s graduated licensing law.
North Carolina requirements. To obtain a driver’s license in North Carolina, a sixteen-year-old must:
  1. Have held a limited learner’s permit issued by NC DMV for at least 12 months;
  2. Not have been convicted of a motor vehicle moving violation, a seat belt infraction, or a violation of the law prohibiting use of a mobile phone by drivers under 18 in the preceding six months;
  3. Pass a road test administered by NC DMV
  4. Have a high school diploma, a GED, or a driving eligibility certificate issued by a school administrator stating that (a) the person is currently enrolled in school and is making progress toward obtaining a high school diploma, (b) a substantial hardship would be placed on the person or his or her family if the person did not receive a certificate, or (c) the person cannot make progress toward obtaining a high school diploma or GED
  5. Have completed a driving log detailing a minimum of 60 hours of driving, at least ten of them at night.
G.S. 20-11(d).
Even then, a sixteen-year-old is granted a limited provisional license, which permits unsupervised driving from 5:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. and at any time when driving to and from work. When the license holder is driving unsupervised, there may be no more than one passenger under age 21 in the vehicle. This limit does not apply to passengers who are members of the license holder’s immediate family or who live in the same household with the driver. However, if a family member who is under 21 is in the vehicle, no non-family-member passengers who also are under 21 may be in the vehicle.
Failure to comply with the time-of-driving restriction constitutes operating a motor vehicle without a license, a Class 3 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-11(l). Failure to comply with the limitations on the number of passengers is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100.
A sixteen-year-old who has held a limited provisional license for six months may obtain a full provisional license if he or she:
  1. Has not been convicted of a motor vehicle moving violation, a seat belt infraction, or a violation of the law prohibiting use of a mobile phone by drivers under 18 in the preceding six months,
  2. Has a driving eligibility certificate, a high school diploma or GED, and
  3. Has completed a driving log documenting at least 12 hours of driving, six of them at night.
The restrictions on time of driving, supervision, and passengers do not apply to a full provisional licensee. Such drivers are still prohibited from using mobile phones while driving, subject to the limited exceptions in G.S. 20-137.3.
Are teens safer? North Carolina was among the pioneers of graduated licensing, adopting, along with Georgia and Michigan, a full three-tier stage licensing system in 1997. Parents love it, teens tolerate it, and researchers have concluded that North Carolina’s system in particular is associated with a reduced crash risk for sixteen-year old drivers in the years following initial licensure. See Masten & Foss, Long-term effect of the North Carolina graduated driver licensing system on licensed driver crash incidence: A 5-year survival analysis, 42 Accident Analysis & Prevention, 1647-1652 (stating that the findings “provide further evidence that crashing among young drivers is more commonly the result of what they have not yet learned than it is the result of the ‘foolishness of youth.’”)
Payback at 18? One comprehensive study has, however, associated graduated licensing with an increase in fatal crashes among 18-year-olds. See Masten, Foss & Marshall, Graduated Licensing and Fatal Crashes Involving 16- to 19-Year-Old Drivers, 306/10 JAMA, 1098-1103 (concluding based on nationwide examination of fatal crash data that stronger graduated licensing programs were associated with substantially decreased fatal crash incidence for 16-year-old drivers but somewhat higher fatal crash incidence for 18-year-old drivers). The studies’ authors posited that the amount learned under a graduated licensing program might not compare to what teens previously learned through experience alone. They noted that supervised driving is “co-driving, and some important lessons of experience, such as the need for self-regulation and what it means to be fully responsible for a vehicle, cannot be learned until teens begin driving alone.” Another potential explanation is that graduated licensing leads some teens to skip the supervised driving component altogether, waiting until they are 18 to apply for and be issued an unrestricted license.
In any event, the authors of the study cautioned that fatal crashes (the only type of crash data for which evidence is available nationally) differ in significant ways from less serious crashes. For example, fatal crashes are more likely to involve high-risk behavior such as alcohol use and excessive speeding. Because graduated licensing programs are designed to “improve learning among novice drivers and to protect them from the consequences of their inexperience as they learn,” rather than to “control the excessive behaviors often involved in fatal crashes,” graduated licensing should only influence fatal crashes caused by lack of understanding versus misbehavior. Ultimately, the study concludes that more research is required to determine what accounts for the increase among 18-year-olds and how changes to licensing policy might reduce this association.