“Why don’t they have “L” plates here?” Katie asks me.
I’m shotgun in the passenger seat, she’s in the driver’s seat taking us through quiet areas of our town near Boston. It’s Sunday afternoon at the start of school vacation week. I’ve done this deliberately; there’s almost nobody on the road, and therefore, fewer cars to hit. I’ve tried to get Katie’s attention by telling her that if she runs into anything, she’ll be responsible for the $500 deductible.
Whatever the reason, my threat or her skill, she’s doing a pretty good job. And her question about the “L” plates is right/spot on.
In the UK where we lived last year, “L” stands for “learner driver,” as in someone who is at least 17, has passed the written test, and is driving with a companion who is at least 21 with three years of driving experience, and is not driving on the motorways because it’s not allowed for “L” drivers. The “L” plates must be conspicuously displayed at both the front and back of the car to warn other drivers that this person may not know exactly what they’re doing.
There are rules in the US, too, such as these for drivers in Massachusetts between the ages of 16-1/2 and 18:
- Graduate from a state-approved driver education school with at least 30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours behind the wheel, and another six hours of observation from the back seat of the training vehicle. In addition, your parents or guardians must attend a two-hour driver education class. The school will award a certificate of completion, which must be presented to the RMV when applying for the license.
- Complete an additional 40 hours of driving (30 if you attend a driver skills development program), certified on an RMV form by a parent, step-parent or guardian.
Because Katie is now 18, we don’t have to go through all this, though we’ve made sure she’s taken driver’s education classes through her high school.
Now, there’s something that Brits usually don’t know about the US, and that’s that laws vary from state-to-state. For instance, in Massachusetts you have to be a minimum of 16-1/2 to get a permit to drive; in George, you have to be at least 15 and, “a Georgia Applicant under age 18 cannot apply for or keep a driver’s license/permit if withdrawn from school or have a total of 10 unexcused absences or have any conduct infractions.” In South Dakota, you have to be at least 14 years and three months to get a full driver’s license; in New Jersey, 17.
I’m of the persuasion that when it comes to new drivers, the more requirements, and the older the age, the better. But getting back to the “L”, there’s nothing like that here in the US, and I agree with Katie: it’s a pretty great idea.