Mass. Lawmakers Eye Tougher Teen Driver Laws

June 8, 2004

Massachusetts lawmakers are recommending legislation that would place stricter requirements on teenage drivers and their parents or guardians in an effort to reduce car accidents involving young drivers.

The bipartisan subcommittee’s proposals would nearly triple the number of hours teen drivers must spend behind the wheel with their parents, require parents to log their training time, and give police authority to stop teens under 18 who violate late-night driving and passenger restrictions, The Boston Sunday Globe reported.

Supporters hope the plan reaches Gov. Mitt Romney before the Legislature ends its formal sessions next month.

“We’re trying to put some teeth into the law,” said Rep. Bradford Hill, an Ipswich Republican and subcommittee members. “We heard from people who said they think the law is a joke, and that’s a problem.”

Other subcommittee members include House Public Safety Committee Chairman Bruce J. Ayers of Quincy, and Reps. Timothy Toomey of Cambridge and Kathi-Anne Reinstein of Revere, all Democrats.

The new bill would ask the Registry of Motor Vehicles to toughen the test for obtaining a learner’s permit at age 16. The test currently requires takers to answer correctly 14 of 20 questions, and it can be completed in less than 15 minutes.

Those with learner’s permits would spend 12 hours behind the wheel with a professional driving instructor, instead of six hours, Hill said.

To obtain the junior operator’s license at age 161/2, teenagers would have to spend 30 hours instead of the current 12 hours behind the wheel with a parent. For the first time, parents or adults over 21 would have to record the date and times the teenager drives in a logbook, sign it with their initials, and submit it to the Registry, Hill said.

Supervised driving with junior operators has not been heavily enforced, said Arthur Kinsman, director of government affairs for American Automobile Association of Southern New England.

“Parents can say, ‘Oh, yeah we did it,’ but who knows if they just took a few spins in the parking lot at the mall on Sunday, or they really did the time?” he said.

Hill said the number of driving hours could be cut to 20 if teenagers attend advanced driving schools, which teach students how to operate vehicles in extreme weather conditions.

The House subcommittee also aims to place heavier penalties on teen driving during forbidden hours, which are between midnight and 5 a.m., or junior operators who drive with other passengers under 18 during the first six months of their license.

First-time violators will have a license suspension of 90 days instead of 30 days, a second violation would result in a 180-day suspension instead of 60 days, and the third penalty is a one-year suspension.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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