JOL Makes the Grade to Persuade Teens to Drive Safer
First Year of Tougher Law Shows Drop in Deaths and Citations
(Boston, MA) - Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen today released new data which shows the death toll for teen drivers dropped by a third in the year since the Registry of Motor Vehicles implemented the new junior operator law. Violations for risk-taking behavior such as speeding and drag racing are also down. Secretary Cohen and Registrar Anne L. Collins credit the major changes in the law-zero tolerance penalties, mandatory driver training for parents and more hours behind the wheel for getting junior operators to drive safer.
"These statistics give us good reason to celebrate the first anniversary of JOL," said Secretary Cohen. "The tougher penalties are making inroads in reducing the number one killer of teenagers-vehicle crashes."
"Massachusetts was also the first state in the nation to mandate parent involvement in helping train teenagers to drive," said Registrar Collins. "The new two hour class for parents and updated driver education curriculum helps assert their importance as primary role models for instilling safe driving habits."
Beginning March 31, 2007 teen drivers faced losing their license for up to a year for first-time convictions for drag-racing, operating under the influence, speeding, taking passengers and driving after curfew. In the year since the law took effect, speeding citations were down 33% compared with the same time period from the year before. Preliminary crash data for 2007 also reflects a significant drop in crash fatalities of junior operators and their teen passengers from 19 deaths in 2006 to 13 last year.
Advocates say the biggest deterrent of reckless driving is the fees and requirements teenagers have to pay to get their drivers license reinstated. "Anecdotally, I have heard from students that they have significantly changed their driving behaviors because of these stiffer laws, especially with regard to speeding. That is good news since speed related deaths are responsible for one-third of driver fatalities. This confirms what we know to be true, a powerful way to change behavior is to strengthen and enforce laws," said Julie Cushing, Massachusetts Program Director for SADD, a youth peer-to-peer education, prevention and activism organization.
The new JOL also recognized the importance of parents as role models in teaching their children how to drive and follow safety requirements. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to require parents take a two-hour driver's education class to learn about the new JOL penalties and help them supervise 40 hours of behind the wheel training for their teen driver. Since the new requirements went into effect, more than 2,000 parents have completed the class.
"The mandatory class has proven to be a positive experience for both parents and the driving schools," said Paul G. Greaney, President of the Professional Driver Education Association of MA. "The class is just two hours, but the feedback we're getting confirms the importance of direct communication between parents and driving schools in sharing valuable information in the effort to reduce teen crashes."
While parents and educators have made progress in keeping more teenagers safe, RMV data also confirms there is still much to do to address stubborn and disturbing trends among junior operators.
"We know that the percentage of fatal crashes caused by speeding is virtually unchanged and teenagers still aren't buckling up," said Registrar Collins. "Ten of the 13 teenagers who died in crashes last year were not wearing their seat belts."
The RMV is partnering with the Department of Public Health to mount a three year junior operator outreach campaign thanks to a federal grant from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security's Highway Safety Division. The first year of funding will go towards developing a print and media campaign to reach parents and health care providers of junior operators and promote safety belt use.
Organizations like MADD and AAA have also developed a number of interactive tools, videos and educational games to help parents teach novice drivers.