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Montreal Families

A teen’s guide to obtaining a license

I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 19. My mother insisted I get my license, but I never really enjoyed being behind the wheel. During my marriage, my husband always drove and, over time, the lack of practice turned me into a nervous driver. However, after my divorce, I had to change my attitude, not only for my own independence but also for the safety of my girls. I didn’t want to have to bus them back home late at night from an activity or a friend’s house.

When my girls each turned 16, I encouraged them to get their driver’s license. It wasn’t easy — for me or for them. I spent many hours white-knuckled in the passenger seat to give them the hours of practice they needed to learn how to drive safely. And they tolerated my consistent harping about no drinking and driving. In spite of my anxieties, I wanted them to learn how to drive. For many parents, especially those who have spent years chauffeuring their offspring from one activity to another, it’s a great relief when their child finally obtains a license.

Quebec’s licensing system is called “graduated licensing” to help people gain the knowledge and skills they need to drive safely. The earliest age a person can apply for a learner’s permit (the first kind of license) is 16 — and they need written permission from a parent or guardian. To obtain the learner’s permit, a teen must pass a test that includes questions on everything from road signs to who has the right of way at an intersection. This theoretical knowledge can be learned either at an accredited driving school (often dubbed “driver’s ed”) or from a CD or book, available at the Societé de l’assurance automobile de Quebec website, (www.saaq.gouv.qc.ca).

Morty Preisler is the owner of Morty’s Driving School, which has trained 30,000 drivers in Montreal and the West Island since 1977. He says that learning road theory from a CD or a book is not as effective as getting the information from a teacher. In a class, students learn much more than rules and regulations. “We teach them about defensive driving and how the laws of nature affect driving, such as what happens when you don’t slow down before a turn,” Preisler says. “We also spend a lot of time talking about alcohol and drugs, which is important for the kids.”

As well, if a teen has taken a driver’s ed course, they may apply for their probationary license (the second step) after 12 months.

In order to obtain the probationary license, a young person needs experience driving. They must drive with someone who has had a full-fledged driver’s license for at least two years. When a young person feels ready, he or she makes an appointment for a road test. If they pass, they receive the probationary license, which carries with it certain restrictions (see sidebar).

Preisler recommends that parents be actively involved and oversee their teen’s time behind the wheel. “A lot of parents don’t practice driving enough with their kids to give them experience and confidence,” he says. “Once they get their driver’s license, it’s only the beginning. Parents should slowly increase the driving radius and the distance from the house the kids can drive.”

Preisler also says parents should limit the number of kids allowed in the car with a teen driver. Too many passengers can be a huge distraction, he adds.

Obtaining a driver’s license is a celebrated rite of passage toward adulthood but it brings with it certain dangers, consequences and responsibilities. As parents, we do an enormous favour to our kids — and society as a whole — by staying involved and guiding them on the road to being safe, courteous and careful drivers.

Driver’s Ed making a comeback

About 20 years ago, the Quebec government ended the rule that first-time drivers had to go to driver’s ed. Instead, people could study the rules of the road from a book or CD. Studies had shown no correlation between taking a driver’s ed course and reduction in car accident deaths. However, several years ago, after 3-year old Bianca Leduc was struck and killed in the front yard of her babysitter’s home in Île Perrot by a car driven by a teen holding a learner’s permit, the provincial government passed a law that would require first-time drivers to attend driving school. No date has yet been set as to when it comes into effect.

For information on accredited driving schools, contact the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) at 514-861-7575 or the Quebec Safety League at 514-595-9110.

Young drivers at risk

Too many of our young people aren’t driving safely, with devastating consequences for them and their families. According to Statistics Canada, young drivers ages 16-19 have the highest risk of being killed in a traffic accident. As well, car crashes remain the largest cause of death among 15-24 year old Canadians.

Probationary license

To apply for a probationary license, a person must have:

  • a piece of identification
  • a learner’s permit
  • proof from a driving school (if they took a course) that they passed
  • written authorization from a parent (for teens under 18.)
  • a valid signed registration and proof of liability insurance for the vehicle they will use during the road test. (The SAAQ does not provide a vehicle for the road test.)
  • $27.50 for the test and $170.67 for the probationary license, paid in cash or by cheque
  • The passing mark is 75 per cent and, if your teen fails, they must wait at least 21 days before trying again.
  • The probationary license is valid for 24 months or until the age of 25. The license carries with it several restrictions. Holders of this license are subjected to a limit of four demerit points (as opposed to 15 for a regular driver’s license), which triggers the suspension of the license for three months. As well, anyone with a probationary license cannot serve as an accompanying rider to assist a learner and they are not allowed to drive if they have consumed any alcohol.
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