Teen Drivers

Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death among young drivers. Fortunately, Massachusetts has seen a significant decline in injury rates among junior operators (ages 16-17) over the past decade. On average, two Massachusetts drivers ages 16-17 die in a motor vehicle crash each year, and there are about 25 hospitalizations and 860 emergency department visits of drivers ages 16-17 for nonfatal crash injuries annually. Due in part to the decreasing crash injury rate among drivers ages 16-17 and the increasing number of youth getting their license at age 18 or older, Massachusetts drivers ages 18-20 now have higher hospitalization rates for crash related injuries than drivers ages 16-17.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts Junior Operator License Laws

Junior Operator Laws (JOL), also known as Graduated Driver License Laws (GDL), are a system of regulations designed to keep new teen drivers safe by giving them more driving privileges the more experience they get behind the wheel.

  • The Passenger Restriction prevents a Junior Operator from carrying passengers under the age of 18 (except for siblings) during the first six months that the driver has his/her license. This restriction was designed to reduce the number of distractions that an inexperienced driver may face while driving.
  • The Night Restriction prevents a Junior Operator from driving between 12:30 am and 5:00 am, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. This restriction was designed to prevent driving during these dangerous hours when more crashes tend to occur due to drowsiness or increased risk-taking behavior.
  • Operators under the age of 18 cannot use any mobile electronic device for any reason while operating a motor vehicle. The only exception is for reporting an emergency.

Prevention/Best Practices

Seat Belts: According to the CDC, of the teens (aged 16-19) that died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2016 at least 48% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.

Not Drinking & Driving: Enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 are recommended.

Graduated Driver Licensing Programs (GDL): (Note: In Massachusetts these provisions are called the Junior Operator Law or JOL) Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing programs, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. GDL provides longer practice periods, limits driving under high risk conditions for newly licensed drivers, and requires greater participation of parents as their teens learn to drive. Research suggests that the more comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 26% to 41% in fatal crashes and reductions of 16% to 22% in overall crashes, among 16-year-old drivers. When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

Teen Drivers Resources

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