Q: My daughter just got her school license. I am excited that she has some more freedom now, but I was left wondering about the reason for the license. She has told me about how some students are using the license, and it's a lot more than what I thought it should be. I want to do the right thing, and I want my daughter to do the same. What are the laws concerning these uses?
A: There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the 'Minor's School License' commonly referred to as a school permit. The title does a pretty good job of describing the purpose, but our reader is not alone by questioning how it is being used. Parents, teachers, and driver's education instructors have all posed similar questions.
Iowa code section 321.194 spells out the requirements to get a MSL and the benefits of having one. It is available at age 14 if the student meets all of the requirements. It essentially allows the student to drive unaccompanied to school and school related activities within the school district. For further information on the requirements to apply for and qualify for a MSL, refer to the Iowa Department of Transportation's website.
The topic for this article goes a bit deeper thoughthe legal use of a MSL. There are many specific questions I have been asked over the years, and there is no good way to address every one of them in this type of format. If your concern does not get addressed here, I would suggest going to your local DOT license station and explaining your unique situation. For the purposes of this article, I have broken down the majority of those questions into these main areas; Times, Route, Passengers/Pick-ups, Enforcement/Suspension.
The code permits a MSL holder to operate without supervision between the hours of 5am and 10pm. The next question is always about the exceptions. What if the band concert gets over late? What if the bus gets back after 10pm from a long trip? There are all sorts of valid exceptions that could be made. There is really no way to legislate which exceptions are worthy and which ones are not, so the Department of Transportation has made it simple. There are no exceptions to the time rule. Students and parents are required to make other arrangements if it will involve driving outside the 5am to 10pm window.
The law requires that MSL holders to use, "THE most direct and accessible route between the licensee's residence and schools of enrollmentfor the purpose of attending duly scheduled courses of instruction and extracurricular activities within the school district." Note that the code specifies 'THE most direct route'noting that there should be one route taken each trip to and from the school.
The next question is always regarding fuel. What if I need to get fuel and there is not a station on THE route? The code does allow a MSL holder to stop at a gas station on the route, or the closest one to the route for the purpose of fueling. This does not mean the MSL holder can stop at the fuel station just to pick up a quick breakfast and mid-morning energy drink. The stop needs to be for the purpose of refueling.
I've also been asked about students using their MSL to drive to the approved school building on THE route, but then walk a couple blocks to work or a friend's house. Even though this would satisfy the route requirement, the problem lies in the purpose of the trip. The 'purpose of attending duly scheduled courses of instruction and extracurricular activities within the school district' must be met.
Let's say that Jimmy wants to pick up Johnny, but Johnny's house isn't on THE route. Can Johnny walk to a point that is on the route, and hop in with Jimmy from there? The answer is NO. If an MSL holder would like to transport a friend to school, they must get in at the home residence. New changes to the law allow only 1 unrelated minor to accompany the MSL holder at any one time. This restriction is waived when the MSL holder is accompanied by a parent or other approved adult.
There are several ways the MSL privilege can be taken away. If the MSL holder is involved in a contributive accident, the license can be suspended. If the MSL holder is convicted of a moving violation, it will be suspended for 30 days. Second and subsequent offenses will result in revocation for longer periods, in addition to posting SR-22 (high risk) insurance.
Many know that enforcement action or a crash will impact MSL privileges. But many don't realize that a written report to the DOT will result in the revocation even without a conviction or crash. The DOT may suspend MSL privileges with written notice from a police officer, parent, guardian, superintendent, or superintendent's designee that the MSL holder has violated the terms of the license.
After reading this article it's easy to think that the state is too strict in its interpretation of these laws. Many will argue that kids will be kids, and to a certain extent they need even more freedom.
A better way to approach this issue comes from a different mindset. That mindset is to accept the freedoms that are granted in the MSL regulations and realize that they are a privilege, not a right.
It could mean the difference between driving yourself to school and riding with Mom and Dad. When faced with that decision, I know which choice my kids would make.
For further information on this topic, refer to the Department of Transportation's website at: www.iowadot.gov/mvd/ods/msl.htm#myAnchor.