For Shrewsbury High freshman Kate Dupuis, 15 1/2, her sweet 16 birthday will bring with it the excitement of knowing she's now eligible to apply for her learner driver's permit.
That's good news to people like Westborough High freshman Brianna Gross, who last fall emailed Massachusetts legislators expressing her disapproval of a plan to raise the state's legal driving age from 16-1/2 to 17-1/2.
But, although Kate will not have to wait any longer to get her license, it will take her longer to get it, thanks to a bill signed into law by outgoing governor Mitt Romney, the day before he left office.
Under the new law teens will need to spend 40 hours driving with a parent or guardian (30 hours if an advanced driver's education course is completed), a significant jump from the 12 hours currently required, and six extra hours behind the wheel with a qualified instructor. Those provisions take effect Sept. 1, nine days before Kate's 16th birthday.
"It's a lot more," she said, "but I kind of like it better. I notice even when I'm out with my mother, a lot of people do stupid things."
Parents also will have to spend two hours in driver's ed. with their teens; a requirement Kate's mom Kelly Dupuis thinks will be "a pain in the neck," but also a good refresher course for adults who might have acquired bad habits throughout years of driving.
A separate provision, effective March 31, greatly increases penalties for teens, who speed, drag race, drive with passengers other than a parent or guardian during the first six months, or violate the rule against driving after midnight.
Violators of these rules, who have junior operator licenses or learner permits, will face longer suspensions - up to one year in several cases - and they (or their parents) will have to pay higher fines.
Bay State Parent freelance writer Jane Mackay's report on the new teen driver law can be read completely inside the March issue or can be viewed online at http://www.baystateparent.com/news/2007/0301/Articles/006.html