WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Nikhil Badlani Foundation’s Youth Advisory Board has been working throughout the pandemic, just as diligently as it had been before COVID-19 forced meetings to move online. The high school–led team of students received the Traffic Officers Association of Essex County’s Timothy Larney Memorial Traffic Safety Education & Enforcement Award, and were named GDL Champions by the Teen Safe Driving Coalition of New Jersey at the West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board meeting on April 14. Acknowledged for its work on a local level, the youth board was also recognized for its work as advocates for a state Assembly bill that would require a set number of driving practice hours before a teenager can receive a driver’s license.
“New Jersey is one of three states that doesn’t have a requirement,” YAB President Anay Badlani said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on April 18. “It really hasn’t been advocated for.”
The bill would require teenagers to practice driving for 50 hours — including 10 hours at night — while they have their learner’s permit to become eligible for a probationary license. Arkansas and Missouri are the other two states that do not mandate practice hours. Anay Badlani and YAB secretary Evan Correa testified in front of the state Assembly’s Transportation Committee about the bill in January.
“The main thing is to get people on the road as much as possible,” Correa said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on April 19.
Permits are required for six months before a person is eligible for a license; under the bill, the time frame would increase to a year. The board has been working with state senators to find a co-sponsor for the bill, and Correa and Anay Badlani will testify again in May in front of the state Senate’s Transportation Committee.
“A lot of my friends have gone through this,” Anay Badlani said. “There are so many people who don’t practice, or don’t practice enough. A lot don’t think about doing it at night, but driving is really different then.”
Correa said that when most teenagers are practicing driving, it doesn’t even occur to them to go on the road after the sun goes down.
“I just think about doing it when it’s more convenient and it’s easiest to get around,” he said.
In an April 16 phone interview with the Chronicle, NBF President Sangeeta Badlani compared driving practice to practice for the sports that many teenagers play.
“We want people to be prepared. If someone plays soccer, they probably play for two hours every day,” she said, adding that 50 hours of driving practice would not come to even an hour a week in the course of a year. “But we don’t seem to put that much emphasis on this for some reason.”
Kennedy Morgan, the marketing chairperson on the YAB, pointed out another reason that more driving practice for teenagers should happen sooner rather than later: Following the pandemic, more students could be opting to drive themselves to school. The West Orange School District hasn’t gone back to in-person learning yet, but when it does, Morgan thinks fewer high school students will take the bus if they have the option of driving.
“A lot of seniors aren’t going to be on the bus,” she said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on April 19. “There might be more carpooling and driving themselves,” she added, saying increased driving hours “will help prevent accidents with teenagers.”
There’s no firm way to make sure that every teenage driver actually completes the 50-hour log other than an honor system, but both the parents and student will have to sign off on the count. Safe-driving pledges and education initiatives, which the board is also working on with PSAs and the U Got Brains competition, also help.
“We also talk about what parents can do,” Correa said. “If they can set that example (of safe driving), their kids will follow it.”