Obtaining a driver's license is a milestone for teens. Not only is it considered a rite of passage, but it is a step toward self-sufficiency as well.

Obtaining a driver's license is a milestone for teens. Not only is it considered a rite of passage, but it is a step toward self-sufficiency as well.


However, as a parent I cannot help but be concerned for the safety of young drivers. In a recent study of all traffic accident fatalities in the Bay State in 2005, almost 20 percent involved at least one 16- to 20-year-old driver. In light of this, the Governor signed the Junior Operator's Bill into law on January 3, 2007. It establishes stricter penalties for offenses committed by teen drivers and increases requirements for obtaining a license.


The new law will affect any teen who has not yet obtained a license, including those who have their permits. Many of the stricter penalties were put into effect on March 31, 2007 and changes to the driver's education requirements will be put into effect on September 1, 2007.


The law is designed to ensure that young drivers are aware of the responsibilities that are associated with driving and that they are receiving the best training possible. A new, standardized curriculum for driving schools has also been developed, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is currently working on a final test to be taken by students upon completion of their driver's education course.


In the past, the requirements for basic driver's education included 30 hours of classroom instruction, six hours of behind-the-wheel training, and six hours of in-car observation of another student driver.


Now, as implemented by changes to the Junior Operator's Law taking effect on September 1, 2007, prospective teen drivers are required to have 12 hours of behind-the-wheel training, 40 hours of parent/guardian-supervised driving, or 30 hours of parent/guardian-supervised driving if the teen completes an advanced driver training course, and parental participation in two hours instruction on driver's education curriculum.


Also, the new changes affect permit holders who are caught driving without an adult or between midnight and 5 a.m. For a first offense, the penalty is a 60-day license suspension, increasing to a 180-day suspension for a second offense, and a one year suspension for a third offense. Fines can range between $100 and $1,000. The penalty is the same for Junior Operators (teens under 18 years of age) driving between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.


Similarly, the penalty for Junior Operators driving with passengers under 18 who are not family members, unless accompanied by a licensed driver 21-years-old or older with at least a year of driving experience, is a 60-day license suspension for a first offense, a 180-day suspension for a second offense, and a one year suspension for a third offense.


The penalties for a first offense of drag racing are a $250 fine, a one year license suspension, and $500 fee to reinstate one's license. A first offense for speeding results in a 90-day license suspension and $500 reinstatement fee.


In addition, Junior Operators cited for either of these offenses must retake the driving exam and complete Driver Attitudinal Retraining and State Courts Against Road Rage courses. Speeding fines are $100 for the first 10 miles per hour over the speed limit and $10 for each addition mile over the limit after that.


The new law is designed to help drivers gain experience and allow them to become cautious drivers. In order to protect teens, we are working hard in the legislature to ensure that young drivers understand that driving is a privilege and that it must be taken seriously.


To learn more, visit the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles at www.mass.gov.


State Senator Scott Brown represents the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex district in the Senate.