Teen drivers

What you need to know about helping teens become safe, smart drivers

Teen driving overview

Teen drivers crash at a higher rate than other ages. In 2016, teenage drivers in Massachusetts accounted for 7% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 5% of all driver fatalities reported. 

Seat belt use by teen drivers continues to be of great concern. From 2012 to 2016, a total of 130 teen drivers were involved in a fatal crash. Of these drivers, 24 were found to not be wearing a seat belt at the time of impact. Ninety-two percent (22 teen drivers) did not live to see another day as a result of his/her decision not to wear a seat belt. This is substantially higher than the nearly 80% rate of fatality among all drivers not wearing a seat belt at the time of crash in the same time frame.

Speeding is another prevalent factor in crashes in involving teen drivers. From 2012 to 2016, 43% of teen drivers involved in a fatal crash were found to be speeding. Sixty-six percent of these speeding drivers perished in the crash. Speeding, coupled with lack of seat belt usage, has proven deadly as nearly half of the teen drivers killed in a speeding-related crash were also not wearing their seat belt. 

For teens, driving can be a time of freedom, but it can also be a time of worry for parents. Adhering to the rules of the road and paying attention at all times are critical behaviors to teen driver safety. For parents, staying involved with the learning process and constant communication about the responsibilities of driving as well as being a good role model, go a long way to ensuring the safety of teen drivers.

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Junior operator license in Massachusetts

On January 3, 2007, Massachusetts enacted the Junior Operator License (JOL) law. The law is designed to ensure that teen drivers are not only getting the best possible training before they are fully licensed but that they are also aware of the responsibilities associated with getting behind the wheel. Here are the key JOL restrictions:

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. Crash rates for young drivers are higher late at night when they may be drowsy, tend to speed, or take more risks because there are fewer cars on the road. This restriction was designed to prevent driving during these dangerous hours. A first offense of one of these restrictions will result in a 60-day license suspension and a $100 reinstatement fee.

Furthermore, a Safe Driver Law went into effect on September 30, 2010 prohibiting mobile phone usage by drivers under the age of 18. This means absolutely no cell phone use while driving. The only exception is for reporting an emergency. First offense results in a $100 fine, 60-day license suspension, and a required attitudinal retraining course. Second offense results in a $250 fine, 180-day license suspension. A third or subsequent offense will lead to a $500 fine and one-year license suspension.

To learn more about obtaining a JOL, please click on the links provided below.

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100 Deadliest Days

The period between Memorial and Labor Day is known as the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers.  An average of 220 teen drivers and passengers are killed in crashes during each of the summer months – a 43 percent increase compared to the rest of the year.  Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in Massachusetts and across the country. 

School’s out, so more teens are heading out on road trips, beach days, and other adventures. That means instead of the usual school run, teens will find themselves on roads they aren’t as familiar with, and in conditions they don’t usually drive in.

Governor Charlie Baker and the Highway Safety Division have worked together to get the word out about the dangers that teen drivers face and ways parents can encourage safer driving habits with help from the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

What Are the Dangers Teens Face on the Road?

When your teen gets behind the wheel this summer, there are many factors that can increase their risk of a crash.

  • Other Teens — One of the biggest dangers, especially in the summer, is when teens drive with other teens. Studies show that when other teens are in the car, new drivers are more likely to take risks behind the wheel, like speeding, texting, and driving under the influence. In fact, having other teens in the car increases the risk of a fatal crash by at least 44 percent. To reduce this risk, Massachusetts’ Junior Operator Law restricts whom teens can drive with.
  • Drowsy and Night Driving — During the summer, teens tend to stay up later and get behind the wheel when they’re too tired, which can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving. In Massachusetts, teens holding a junior operator’s license can’t legally drive between 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  • Seat Belts — Despite growing up wearing seat belts, teens often don’t use them when they start driving on their own. In the United States, more than half of teens killed in crashes in 2013 weren’t wearing seat belts. Make sure that everyone in your family knows to always buckle up, no matter how far and no matter whose car.
  • Drugs and Alcohol — Driving under the influence is dangerous at any age. In 2013, 17 percent of drivers ages 16–20 who were killed in crashes had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher.
  • Speeding — Speeding can seem like a minor offense, but it can make a big difference in a crash. Nearly 1/3 of teen drivers involved in fatal car crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
  • Distracted Driving — Teens spend a lot of time on their phones, but texting and other distractions can increase their risk of a fatal crash. In Massachusetts, it’s illegal for teens under 18 to use cellphones while driving, and it’s illegal for anyone to text and drive. Help keep your child off the phone — remember not to call or text when you know they’re driving.

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Teens?

In addition to learning the habits that can put your child at risk on the road, there is another step you can take to help your teen stay safe.

  • Sign a Driving Contract — Make sure your kids understand the consequences of breaking your rules — and the law. Studies show that teens who sign a driving agreement are less likely to engage in dangerous driving behaviors. The RMV has a template driving contract  that you and your teen can fill out together.

In Massachusetts, teens can lose their driving privileges for a whole year for violating the Junior Operator Law. Talk to your teens about the dangers of impaired, fatigued, and distracted driving, as well as driving with their friends in the car. And always let them know that if they are ever unsure about driving or getting in someone else’s car, you’re just a phone call away.

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