When your teen is ready to get his or her driver’s license, it can be an exciting and scary time for many parents. Before your teens get behind the wheel, it’s important that you instill in them safe driving habits and ensure they are following all of the driving laws, including those directed at teens.
As a parent, always wear your seatbelt, use turn signals and mirrors, drive at a safe speed, do not use your cell phone while driving and be aware of other drivers and pedestrians.
- Know the risks. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Per mile driven, teen drivers are four times more likely than adult drivers to crash. Speeding, alcohol and distractions from friends and mobile devices are key contributors to teen crashes.
- Know the rules. In 2007 and 2010, Massachusetts passed laws to improve safe driving behaviors and reduce risks for teen driving. In a study conducted by MGH researchers, the law helped reduce the number of fatal and nonfatal crashes among teen drivers by 37 percent. The law works and parents need to be part of the education and enforcement of the rules.
At 16 years of age, teens can apply for their permit. During the permit phase, teens are required to complete at least 40 hours of supervised driving, 30 hours of driver education coursework and they are banned from driving unless a licensed adult age 21+ is sitting in the passenger seat. Parents must also complete a two-hour driver education course. Six months after getting their permit, teens with a clean driving record can obtain their junior operator license. Junior operators (and permit holders) are banned from driving from midnight to 5:00 a.m. (unless a parent is in the car) and may not have passengers younger than 18 years of age in the car during the first six months.
All drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using mobile electronic devices while driving.
There are severe penalties (suspension of license, large monetary fines) for violating the passenger restrictions, night driving restrictions, driving without a licensed driver, driving recklessly, speeding, drag racing and use of mobile electronic devices.
- Take the parent education class early. Parents of teens with a permit are required to take a two hour teen driver education course for the teen to move on to the junior operator license. It is most beneficial to sign up and take the class as early in the process as possible. This way you can share what you have learned with your teen while they practice.
- Help your teen avoid distractions while driving. Cell phone use and friends in the car are two of the biggest contributors to teen crashes. Advise your teen to keep the phone out of reach in the trunk or silence the phone and follow the rules on passenger restrictions.
- Be a good role model. Parents should set a good example from the start. As a parent, always wear your seatbelt, use turn signals and mirrors, drive at a safe speed, do not use your cell phone while driving and be aware of other drivers and pedestrians.
For more information, connect with the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles. You can also read a Q&A with Dr. Kaafarani on safe driving habits for teens.
Haytham Kaafarani, MD, MPH, FACS is a trauma surgeon and director of Patient Safety & Quality in the MGH Division of Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical Care, assistant professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School and a leader in the MGH Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Program. The Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Program at MGH applies evidenced-base approaches to prevent injuries to children and adults and advocates for policies to improve health and safety in our communities.