Deaths, Citations Down 1 Year After Mass. Strengthened Teen Driving Law

April 2, 2008

Teen deaths and speeding citations each fell by about a third during the first year Massachusetts had tougher penalties for violating its Junior Operator License Law, state officials said.

The number of 16- and 17-year-old drivers and passengers killed in auto accidents fell from 19 to 13 since March 31, 2007, while the overall number of speeding citations fell from 10,016 to 6,726, according to Registrar of Motor Vehicles Anne L. Collins.

Collins credited the new law, which created a zero-tolerance policy for first-time offenders under the age of 18.

First-time speeders, for example, now face a 90-day license suspension and a $500 reinstatement fee, and second-time offenders face a one-year suspension and the same reinstatement fee. Previously those people faced a $50 fine.

The law also clamped down on drag racing. Those with learner’s permits or new licenses can lose them for a year for a first offense. Previously they faced fine of up to $500 for a first offense and a 30-day suspension.

“Clearly the statistics are going in the right direction,” Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen said. “I realize it’s just one year, but it’s pretty dramatic.”

Cohen added: “I do think that the amount of publicity that’s been given to this has helped educate people about the fact that we’re serious about trying to reduce what has been the leading cause of death among teenagers, which is motor vehicle accidents.”

Two police chiefs said they didn’t need the statistics to see the law’s effect.

“As a father of a new driver who just turned 18 a few weeks ago, I know from listening to her and her peers that kids are paying attention because they don’t want to have a problem,” said Brockton Police Chief William Conlon.

“The penalties are very severe. But, knock on wood, we haven’t had any serious accidents since this took effect,” Conlon said.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, the father of a 17-year-old, said: “My son’s certainly well aware of it. I know he and his friends talk about it.”

The revamped law was instituted in two phases.

Last March, stiffer penalties took effect for carrying illegal passengers, driving after hours, driving recklessly, speeding and drag-racing.

Last September, new driving-time rules took effect. They increased the “behind-the-wheel” requirement for junior operators from 6 hours to 12 hours, the amount of parent-supervised driving time from 12 hours to 40 hours and they created a two-hour driver’s education course for parents — a first in the country.

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