RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The length of time a young driver is required to have a learner’s permit before getting a provisional license in North Carolina may be about to change.

Gov. Roy Cooper is considering a bill passed Wednesday in the House that would shorten that window from 12 months to 9 months, starting in January. Senate Bill 157 (and its twin, House Bill 261) also would allow additional non-family passengers to ride with provisional drivers if they are going to or from school.


If you are confused about that 12-month and 9-month change, perhaps it’s because the COVID-19 pandemic’s closure of driver’s education classes and DMV offices had led to a reduction to 6 months for the period a teen had to have a learner’s permit.

That expired at the end of 2022, but the legislation on Cooper’s desk would extend that limit until the 9-week compromise took over in January.

Those rules and processes for becoming a licensed driver vary wildly across the country, with North Carolina’s 3-step process that begins with a driver’s education course being among the most defined and protracted.

Proponents of the bill say the changes would mirror the limits in South Carolina and Virginia, to use two examples. Opponents suggest that vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among teens.

The bill passed in the Senate, 38-5, with Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) among the five Democrats who opposed it. In the House, the vote was 92-15, with all Democrats voting against it. None of those was from districts in the Piedmont Triad, although a few were among the 13 absentees.

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Cooper’s position on the bill is unknown. His spokesperson told The News & Observer that he is considering the bill, which he could sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature. A veto could be overridden.

How it would work

If the bill were to become law, here’s how the driver’s license process will work:

  • Driver’s education: No change in the requirement that 15-year-olds must have a Driving Eligibility Certificate and a Driver’s Education Certificate from either a course at a high school or via private driver’s training. Personal identification documents are required.
  • Learner’s permit: The required period for a teen to have a learner’s permit would change from 12 months to 9 months, starting Jan. 1.
  • Learner’s permit drive time: No change in the requirement of 60 hours of supervised driving (some after dark) with a licensed parent/guardian, grandparent or adult approved by parent/guardian).
  • Limited provisional license: After passing a road test, a 16-year-old can drive unsupervised between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. (or for work or volunteer fire/EMS service) for 6 months.
  • Limited provisional passengers: The number of non-family passengers under age 21 allowed to ride with a limited provisional driver doubles from 1 to 2 – as long as the passenger is “a student who is being driven direction to or from school.” Teen drivers must be students in high school or pursuing a general education degree.
  • Full provisional license: After 6 months of having a limited provisional license and with a completed log of at least 12 hours of driving, a 16- or 17-year-old can drive unsupervised at any time. This requires a trip to the DMV to complete, and school requirements remain.
  • Class C driver’s license: At age 18, the provisional limits are removed, which can be done online, provided the driver has had no moving or seat-belt violations in the prior 6 months.
  • COVID rules: The 6-month provisional period adopted for COVID expired last year but would be continued immediately under the bill until the new rules go into effect in January.
  • Fee schedule: No change in $21.50 for learner’s permit and provisional license. Full provisional license, $5.50 per year.