RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hearts are breaking at DMV offices across the state as thousands of teen drivers find themselves caught in a pandemic pipeline preventing them from getting a driver's license.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed a law two years ago reducing the time teens had to wait to get their licenses. But the backlog remains and the law was allowed to expire. Now, families are caught in the middle.
In Raleigh, if you find yourself driving behind 16-year-old Kaylee Hood in her mom's SUV, you might notice the tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker on the back: "Caution: Student Driver and Screaming Parent." But on Monday, Kaylee and her mother weren't screaming -- they left the Garner DMV office in tears.
"I even cried on the way home," Hood said.
"Kaylee cried and I was upset. I mean I truly counted on her getting her license," her mom, Amy Whitley said.
Hood's dream of driving independence was deferred this week. She's one of the thousands of North Carolina teen drivers caught in the backlog of driving training delays triggered by the pandemic.
In May 2021, Cooper signed Senate Bill 69, reducing the wait time for teen drivers to get their provisional driver's license from 12 to six months. The legislature extended the change for 2022. But, between the six months when Hood earned her learner's permit and went back to DMV for her license, the law had been allowed to expire.
"We get up Monday morning all excited: Kaylee's getting her license yay! Kaylee's getting a job, yay!" Whitley said.
"I was literally the night before looking at car decorations, all that stuff. I was just really hyped up about it," Hood said.
"We get there and the gentleman at the DMV office who was very polite told us he regretted to inform us that Kaylee had to wait six more months; that the bill had expired," Whitley said.
ABC11 went to the state DMV commissioner for answers.
"I empathize greatly for both the parents and especially for the teen drivers," DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said.
Goodwin says his office has been flooded with calls, e-mails and tweets from frustrated families, but he said it's out of the DMV's hands. The problem requires a legislative fix.
"Unfortunately, the legislature created the sunset, created the reversion back to the 12 months, but it didn't take into account that there were hundreds of thousands of teen drivers that were already in the pipeline," he said. "There were many of us thought that the legislature might extend it again, but they didn't come back into session."
Senate Bill 157 was filed on Tuesday at the General Assembly. It would resurrect the six-month wait time and allow thousands of teens like Hood to get their licenses right now.
If SB157 becomes law, it would also permanently reduce the wait time to nine months starting in 2024.
In February, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV) announced some changes to decrease wait times at its 115 driver's license offices across the state.
Beginning on May 1, 2023 appointments will only be available in the mornings through 11 a.m. After noon, all customer services will be provided on a walk-in basis.
North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles looking to lower wait times in offices