Harsh penalties for teens’ night driving violations curb crash rates

By Laura Mize • Published: September 14th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16- to 19-year-olds face a greater risk of traffic crashes than any other age group.

Massachusetts lawmakers implemented a no-nonsense law several years ago to help reduce the risk of crashes for these young drivers. One of the key provisions of the new law … and perhaps the most attention getting for young drivers … is increased penalties for violating the daily driving curfew.

The curfew is in effect from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Previously, the punishment for driving without a supervising adult during this time had been a $35 fine for first-time offenders and fines up to $100 for repeat incidents.

But the new penalties hit teen drivers where it really hurts: a 60-day driver’s license suspension for the first violation, with increases to 180 days and one year for second- and third-timers, respectively.

Plus, any repeat violations require additional training for the teen driver. The law also called for a new driving training curriculum that addresses drowsy driving, as well as greater penalties for dangerous driving behaviors, restrictions on underage passengers and other provisions.

Data from a six-year timeframe, including one year before the law changed and five years after, showed definite improvements.

Crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers declined nearly 19 percent, while 18- to 19-year-olds saw about a 7 percent decrease.

Traffic accidents that caused an “incapacitating injury” or death were reduced for all drivers.

One of the study authors said teens are less able than adults to resist the urge to sleep. It makes sense, then, that ratcheting up penalties for night-time driving violations was the biggest key to reducing crashes.