MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA — Sam Koufman waited 16½ years to be 16½. Then he waited two months for an appointment for his road test. Then, on the morning of the test, he waited what felt like forever for his mother to get back from jogging. Then he waited an hour in traffic as they made their way to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Lawrence. Then he waited in the Registry line, which is not a good line to be in if you feel like you cannot wait any longer.
Then, suddenly, all the waiting was over. He made it to the front of the line, went out for his road test with the state examiner, and after a few minutes of driving and one decent parallel parking job, the victory was his. Sam Koufman had his driver’s license, “which is like the biggest freedom in the entire world.”
Except in Massachusetts, that freedom comes with a leash for teenagers. So when Koufman got home to Manchester-by-the-Sea, he began another wait — one that lasts for six months; one that teenagers describe with words like “excruciating.”
For Koufman and the rest of the 16- and 17-year-olds who have earned their driver’s licenses in Massachusetts since the state adopted the Junior Operator Bill in 2007, roughly 52,000 of them, the freedom of a driver’s license has come with a big catch. For the first six months, all they really get to do is drive alone.
Since the law went into effect, a generation of drivers have experienced the rite of passage that is getting your driver’s license without immediately getting to experience many of the reasons teenagers want a license in the first place: no cruising around with your buddies, no picking up a girl for a date, no “parking.”
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