Mass. May Toughen Teen Driving Laws, Raise Licensing Age

March 28, 2006

It’s considered by many teenagers a rite of passage to start driving when they turn 16.

But some parents, police officers and lawmakers are beginning to question whether that’s too young to handle the responsibilities of the open road.

With a spate of recent highway accidents that have killed or seriously injured young drivers fueling the debate, a Statehouse committee is working on a bill that would raise the age at which teenagers can get their licenses to 171/2, which would be the highest in the nation.

The legislation, which would also lengthen drivers’ training, could be voted on as early as this week, and would mark the latest effort to change driver laws around the country affecting young people.

“We want to be sure that in Massachusetts we license drivers who have a level of maturity and a level of experience that will have them be good, safe and responsible drivers,” said Rep. Joseph Wagner, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation that is hammering out the bill.

For the past several years, states from California to Connecticut have taken fresh looks at driver laws in an effort to reduce injury and death among young people.

Most states now have some sort of graduated license program that delays full licensure while allowing beginners to hone their driving skills under less risky conditions.

The Massachusetts proposal would raise the age at which teens can receive licenses by a year, to 171/2, and double the duration of learner’s permits to one year. It would also raise the minimum age at which a teen can get a learner’s permit by six months, to 161/2.

New Jersey teens have to wait the longest, age 17, to get their drivers’ licenses, but Kentucky also recently passed a bill increasing the age to 17.


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