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Getting to drive a car is something most teens can’t wait to do. It’s an exciting milestone in one’s life and often seen as a social right of passage among peers. But along with the independence that comes with a driver’s license comes significant responsibility that all new drivers need to understand and respect for their own safety, as well as that of everyone with whom they will share the road.

The third week in October is typically recognized as Teen Driver Safety Week in light of the high motor vehicle crash rate among adolescents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America. The main contributing factors to teen crashes are inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, not wearing seat belts, nighttime driving, alcohol and drug use, and distractions such as cell phone use, loud music, and passengers in the vehicle.

This year’s focus is “It Takes Two: Shared Expectations for Teens and Parents for Driving” to emphasize the important role that parents play in helping teens become safe and skilled drivers. Children model adult behavior, so leading by example is a key strategy in showing children how to be smart and safe behind the wheel. Teens should learn that having a driver’s license and owning a car is a privilege that can be taken away if abused.

To help prepare young drivers for the responsibility that comes with operating a motor vehicle, Massachusetts law requires the state’s teen drivers to acquire more experience behind the wheel before a road test. This “graduated license” law starts new drivers off with restrictions that are gradually removed as the driver advances through the “learner’s permit” phase, the “junior operator’s license” (JOL) phase, and finally to a full driver’s license.

Upon turning 16 in Massachusetts, teens can get a learner’s permit which allows them to practice their driving skills under the supervision of an experienced driver to prepare for their road test. Once a new driver has had their learner’s permit for at least six months with a clean driving record, they may then be issued a junior operator’s license upon passing a road test and completing a Registrar-approved driver education program.

This provisional license has strict restrictions and penalties including passenger restrictions, prohibited cell phone use, limited hours when a motor vehicle can be operated, and license suspension for speeding. These restrictions are in place to combat some of the leading causes for crashes among new drivers.

Learning to drive and getting a driver’s license is an exciting time for teens, but can be scary for adults and parents who worry about inexperience and immaturity. Working with young drivers to teach and prepare them for this step towards adulthood is essential to keeping our roads safe for everyone who shares them.


Join the conversation: tweet a picture of your first car to @massgov

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