Chris McKeown hopes he can address a longtime early-morning headache for hockey parents.
For the past three months, the Westwood resident has been working with state Representative Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat, to amend the state’s Junior Operator Law that prohibits minors from driving between 12:30 and 5 a.m. without a parent or guardian. Their legislation was filed on Jan. 14.
Virtually every rink has teams practicing at 5 or 5:15 a.m. during the high school hockey season, McKeown said, “because that’s when ice is available. There are a fair amount of kids that are licensed but can’t drive to practice.”
Families that must get their children to school-sanctioned events during those early morning hours — such as athletic practices, usually hockey and occasionally swimming — have a choice to make.
Have a parent accompany the child, or break the law.
Neither is ideal. The cost of the first option is inconvenience, not to mention valuable hours of sleep. The cost of the second option, if the underage driver is caught, is a 60-day license suspension and a $100 reinstatement fee, and the penalties climb for subsequent offenses.
It is worth noting that between 4 and 5 a.m., minors can be penalized under the law only as a secondary enforcement after another traffic violation.
McKeown’s daughter, Maddy, a senior defenseman on the varsity girls’ hockey team at Westwood High, will turn 18 in August. The proposed change to the law would not take effect in time for her to drive herself to early morning practices this season, but her father is thinking of the bigger picture.
“I’m not trying to make my life easier,” he said. “I’m trying to correct a situation for everybody. It’s a perennial problem.”
At Billerica High, Tina Carrabba has run predawn sessions, starting promptly at 5:10 a.m., in all of her 14 seasons as varsity girls’ coach, except for the day after a night game.
Her players, she said, prefer the early start. And she does have a couple of 18-year-old seniors who drive to practice.
“All the parents actually like it, they don’t mind driving the kids,” said Carrabba. But she did add, “I do know I have lost a couple of players due to the fact that we do practice in the morning.”
She felt a change in the law would be “great” because itwould help parents.
McKeown raised the issue with McMurtry late last year, and he was immediately on board.
“High school students have a full schedule with extracurricular activities, sporting events, and academics, and to maximize that full day some students start early,” McMurtry said.
“So I want to make sure that parents and students are comfortable being on the road and driving legally. That’s what motivated me.”
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is aware of the initiative, according to spokesman Paul Wetzel, but has not taken a position on it.
“That is not our business,” Wetzel said. “It’s a citizen initiative.”
A number of hockey coaches questioned would like to the see the amendment passed.
Chris Spillane, the Franklin High varsity boys’ coach, does not completely agree.
As the closest team in proximity to Staff Sergeant Robert Pirelli Veterans Memorial Rink in Franklin, his Panthers often receive the 5 a.m. time slot on the ice. So his players have to hit the road well before the curfew ends.
As a coach and the father of a junior on the team, Spillane gets the reasoning behind the proposal. Changing the law would make life a lot easier for the families stuck making that hard decision.
But Spillane is also a sergeant in the town’s Police Department, and he is afraid of a slippery slope. If the state allows minors to drive during those early morning hours for school reasons, might others try to add more exceptions?
“The integrity of the law was that at that age, they’re not going to be alert to drive at that hour,” he said. “It would definitely make life easier. . . . At the same time, that would jeopardize the integrity of the law.”
Spillane emphasized the burden is, indeed, on the parents, and to his knowledge there have not been any violations of the law in Franklin.
Mark Lee, the boys’ varsity coach at St. Mary’s of Lynn and also a 27-year member of the city’s Police Department, supports the modification.
“I would be very much for this change in the law for purposes of sporting events for students,” Lee said. “I see this as an easy solution to this issue.”
Greg LaBossiere, coach of the Hopedale/Millis boys’ co-op team, said his players cut it close to make it on time for a 5:30 a.m. practice. A few receive rides, he said, while others risk it and get behind the wheel themselves.
McKeown finds that troubling.
“The kids know it’s illegal, but the parents say, ‘Go ahead.’ It’s just kind of silly,” McKeown said. “The wrong message is being sent saying ‘Go ahead and drive.’”
In a sense, coach Chris Ryberg and his Newton South High boys are lucky; their earliest practice is 5:45 a.m.
But Ryberg still supports a change in the law. On occasion, practices run up against the start of the school day. So in theory, a minor being able to drive earlier would allow practice to start earlier, thus lowering the chance of the student-athletes getting to class late.
“For a student to be appealing to the competitive schools we have in the Commonwealth, they have to have a full curriculum and extracurricular activities, and this is one of those activities,” McMurtry, the state representative, said.
“I’m sure when my predecessors first established the 12:30-to-5 restriction, there was good reason, but now with the rising interest in hockey primarily and the other activities that take place in those hours, we want to make sure that young drivers are on the road legally.”