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Massachusetts "Graduated Licensing Law" Aimed at Reducing Teen Accidents

Nearly all drivers can remember the excitement and responsibility that comes with obtaining a driver’s license. While gaining the right to drive in Massachusetts is undoubtedly a celebrated right of passage for many Massachusetts teens, statistics show that adolescent drivers are at a much higher risk for car accidents and personal injuries behind the wheel. The Massachusetts “Graduated Licensing Law/Junior Operator’s License” aims to reduce to number of teenage driving injuries and deaths in the state, by requiring drivers under age 18 to follow a three-step process before obtaining a full driver’s license.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of teens in the United States. Further, new drivers are four times more likely to be killed and 14 times more likely to be injured than any other group. Boston attorney Peter Bellotti notes that “while speed and inexperience are the two most common causes for teen car accidents and fatalities, other contributing factors like peer pressure and texting while driving add to the increased risk.” Still, because inexperience behind the wheel remains the most publicized risk factor, Massachusetts employs a graduated licensing program to ease teens into full driver’s licensure.

The first step for Massachusetts adolescents over age 16 is to apply for a learner’s permit. This requires a visit to a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles office, where the teen must sit for a learner’s permit test. The test consists of 25 multiple choice questions regarding traffic laws in the state and the examinee must answer at least 18 questions correctly to obtain a learner’s permit. This permit allows drivers a 6-month minimum period, with some restrictions, to begin practicing their driving skills. These restrictions include not driving alone (permit holders must have another licensed driver over age 21 in the vehicle) and not driving between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

The second step, which must be completed during the learner’s permit window, requires completing a Massachusetts drivers education program. The class must be state approved and include 30 hours of classroom time, 12 hours of actual driving, and 6 hours of “in car” observation. The applicant must also complete 40 hours of outside driving with a licensed parent or guardian.

The third and final step for drivers under age 18 is to obtain a Massachusetts “junior drivers license” by passing a road test. This junior license allows a driver to be on the road without a supervising driver, but other restrictions are imposed. The curfew is still in place until age 18, and junior license holders cannot have any passengers under age 18 in their vehicle, unless they are immediate family members or a supervising driver is also present. If a clean driving record is maintained for 6-months while holding a junior license, the license can be upgraded to a full Massachusetts driver’s license, without restrictions. Failure to follow these rules, however, can result in a fine or suspension of a junior license.

It is encouraging to see that Massachusetts employs the Graduated License Law in an effort to combat teen driving injuries and fatalities and to make Massachusetts roads safer for all motorists. Still, parents should always encourage their teens to practice safe driving, avoid speeding, distractions such as texting while driving, and to limit driving with other adolescents while they are honing their skills behind the wheel. A Massachusetts Drivers Manuel can be obtained here, to learn more about traffic laws and driving guidelines in the state.