For Teen Drivers, Fewer Passengers is Safer

Driving in groups, teens face greater risks for car accidents.

For safety, teens are not allowed to drive with their friends for the first six months of holding a driver’s license in Massachusetts.

Teen Driver Safety Week is Oct. 18-24, 2020. Breakstone, White & Gluck is sharing articles to encourage parents and teens to collaborate and discuss safe driving decisions.

In Massachusetts, drivers who are at least 16 ½ are eligible to receive their driver’s license after a six-month permit period. Because Massachusetts has a Junior Operator Law, teens do not immediately assume full driving privileges. There are restrictions to help reduce the risk of teen car accidents, including one on passengers.

For the first six months, Massachusetts junior operators are not allowed to travel with friends and others under age 18, unless accompanied by another driver who is at least 21 years old and meets other requirements mentioned in statute below. There is an exemption for siblings and family members. The passenger restriction is a critical part of the law, giving teens more time to learn road skills without the distraction of friends.

M.G.L. c.90 § 8 states, “No person holding a junior operator’s license shall operate a motor vehicle during the first 6 months of licensure while a person under 18 years of age, other than the operator or an immediate family member of the operator, is present in the vehicle unless also accompanied by another person, duly licensed by his state of residence, who is at least 21 years of age with at least 1 year of driving experience and who is occupying a seat beside the driver.”

The passenger restriction should be taken seriously. As we discuss below, the distractions of carrying other teens combined with driver inexperience, can contribute to the risk for car accidents resulting in catastrophic injuries such as brain injuries and paralysis, and death. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The junior operator law attempts to give teens more time for practice.

If stopped for carrying unlawful passengers, teens can lose their license for 60 days for the first offense. For the second offense, drivers face a 180-day license suspension and must attend driver attitudinal retraining. There is a one-year license suspension and driver attitudinal retraining for subsequent offenses.

More Passengers, More Risk for Crashes

Research has shown teens need the extra time driving without their friends.

Compared to no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old’s risk for death per mile increases 44 percent when they carry just one passenger under the age of 21, according to the AAA Foundation for Road Safety. The risk doubles when a teen driver carries two passengers younger than 21. The death rate quadruples when there are three or more passengers.

The older the passenger, the less risk for a car accident. There is a 62 percent decrease for a crash when a passenger age 35 or older is aboard. Take this statistic as motivation to give your teens the keys as you ride along. If you develop a good routine with them, you can help them build a full range of driving skills.

As they become more skilled, reward them by letting them drive to new places – a special lunch spot or a scenic view. This helps them build skills, learn responsibility and find some enjoyment from driving. With more time, they can practice fundamentals, such as how to turn through that intersection near your home, how to check for cyclists and how to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. When teens drive with their friends, they are less likely to give these things their full attention.

Come Up With a Driving Plan for Your Teen

The takeaway is come up with a plan for your family. If your teen just earned their Massachusetts junior operator license, the state says they are not allowed to drive with friends under 18 for the first few months but that they can drive with their siblings right away. Remember, the law is a guide. This is your choice to make based on what your teen and their siblings are ready for. Your goal is to help your teen steer clear of car accidents. Think about each situation before you say yes.

When your teen is allowed to start driving passengers under 18, take another pause. The data still shows fewer passengers is safer.

You may want to start slow. Allow your teen to drive with just one friend. Choose a friend who is responsible, trustworthy and has a parent whom you know well and shares your views on raising safe and responsible teen drivers.  That parent should also share your views on open communication. If something should happen and your teen should find themselves at risk, you want your teen and their friend to both feel they can call for a ride.

Free Legal Consultation – Boston Car Accident Lawyers

Breakstone, White & Gluck has decades of experience representing by negligent driving in Boston, Cambridge, Quincy and across Massachusetts. Through our Project KidSafe campaign, we work to protect children and families. Each year, we write about National Teen Driver Safety Week to encourage parents and teens to talk about safety on the roads.

If you have been injured and want to consult a Boston car accident lawyer, you can visit our website or contact our attorneys at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 for a free legal consultation. You can also use our contact form.

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