Owlett Introduces Bill to Break Down Barriers for Students to Obtain Driver Permits, Gain Independence
HARRISBURG – Responding to concerns raised by area students and teachers, Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford) has introduced legislation to improve students’ access to taking their learner’s permit exam.
“With limited hours at our local DMV and busy schedules for parents, many teens are unable to take the knowledge test necessary to obtain a permit, which then prevents them from earning their driver license,” Owlett said. “Especially in rural areas like ours, not having a driver license limits a person’s independence…and the ability to hold a job.”
The issue was brought to Owlett’s attention by Cowanesque Valley High School teacher Jamie-Jo Sickler, who was concerned about the number of students who graduate without a license, creating a barrier to enter the workforce.
“The closest DMVs to our community, Wellsboro and Coudersport, are only open on Wednesdays during school hours, and are more than 25 miles (not minutes) away from the rural town of Westfield. This is sometimes an impossible hurdle for families to overcome just in order to provide the basic right their 16-year-old deserves as a novice driver,” Sickler said. “If permits were offered through the schools, we would level the socio-economic playing field because ALL 16-year-olds would have the opportunity to get their permit, which would be the first major step to becoming members of the workforce community and independent living.”
Eleventh-grader Kylee Stone agreed. “I think that because DMVs have very limited hours, school-aged people are having trouble getting their driver’s licenses. I believe that by opening it up for kids to be able to get them at school, it will encourage students in getting their licenses and that will open up more opportunities for them, including getting a job.”
Based on the suggestion by Sickler, Owlett introduced House Bill 1929, which would create a three-year pilot program allowing schools to administer PennDOT’s learner’s permit test. School districts would be able to opt into the program and provide an eligible student the ability to take the written portion of their permit test right at the school.
“This simple change will make it much easier for our students to fulfill the requirements to obtain their learner’s permit and literally get on the road to learning to drive and opening up opportunities to enter the workforce,” Owlett said. “I am grateful to Mrs. Sickler and her students for speaking up about this problem and giving me the opportunity to work on a solution.”
Since learning of the issue, Owlett has found several states recognize the challenges of appearing in person at a DMV to take a permit test and already offer online testing, including New York State. Florida, Ohio and Texas also use one or more online testing options, while Virginia operates a program in schools similar to that proposed in House Bill 1929.
The bill has been referred to the House Transportation Committee for consideration.