For most teenagers, going to prom is one of the true highlights of high school. It can be the stuff of heartfelt memories. Chances are, you have great memories of your own high school proms. However, as parents it is very important to understand that attending Junior and Senior Prom today is very different from when we were high school students. Thankfully, there are laws in place now to prevent many of the mistakes that we made. However, these laws also tend to complicate things that we would have taken for granted when we were teenagers. For instance, just getting to and from the prom presents challenges far beyond our own teenage experiences.
First, you need to understand that teenage drivers under 18 years old have restrictions on their driver’s license. These restrictions are in place because we all recognize that newly licensed teenage drivers do not have the ability, caution, and wisdom that only comes with driving experience. The restrictions on teenage driving are intended to prevent reckless or impulsive mistakes.
There are two major restrictions for newly licensed teenage drivers – no passengers in their cars, and a curfew.
No Passengers in Their Cars
Teenage drivers are prohibited from having passengers in their cars while they drive. The idea behind this restriction is to prevent one reckless teen driver from injuring another, or several, teenage passengers. We’ve simply had too many tragic incidents where multiple teens died while riding in the same car. Having fewer passengers in the car also means less distractions for the driver. To remedy these problems, our law now prohibits newly licensed teenage drivers (16 years old and 17 years old) from having passengers, with some very narrow exceptions.
For the first six months after they receive their driver’s license, teen drivers cannot have passengers other than:
- Their parents or legal guardians.
- Their licensed driving instructors.
- One adult at least 20 years old, with at least four years of licensed driving experience, and whose license has not been suspended during the immediate four years.
During the second six months after they receive their driver’s license, teenagers can drive other immediate family members (brother, sister, or grandparent) as passengers.
After they complete their first full year of licensed driving, or when they turn 18 years old, this restriction goes away.
Driving Restrictions and the Prom
Frankly, the rules are pretty much the same.
Prom is considered a school-sponsored activity, so it is an exception to the curfew rule. Your teenager can drive themselves to and from prom outside of their normal curfew hours. Furthermore, school-sponsored after-prom parties are included within the exception to the curfew. Your teen can drive themselves home from these nighttime school-sponsored activities as well. However, there are some things to keep in mind:
- The exception only includes school-sponsored activities. Therefore, while prom and the official school-sponsored after-prom party are curfew exceptions, driving to (or from) private parties or friends’ houses is not allowed.
- No detours are allowed. Your teenager must go directly home from the activity. They can’t stop anywhere else.
- The passenger restriction rules still apply – your teenager can drive themselves, but they cannot drive their friends, OR their prom dates! (Limo, anyone?)
Teens under 18 years of age aren’t allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Our law places this curfew on teenage drivers because most fatal accidents involving teenage drivers have taken place during late night/early morning hours. In addition, teenage drivers are highly susceptible to drowsiness and to falling asleep behind the wheel, both of which can directly lead to car collisions.
There are narrow exceptions to the curfew rule:
- Religious Activity
- School Activity or School-Sponsored Event
- Medical Necessity
Teens are allowed to drive to and from these activities during their curfew hours; however, there can be no intervening stops along the way. Your teen driver should go directly home from the activity.
Common Curfew Situations
For Example: Jimmy is 17 years old and he gets out of work at 11:15 p.m. He is allowed to drive directly home. He can’t stop and visit his friends along the way. He can’t stop for fast food on his way home. He can’t go to stay over at a friend’s home for the night. Jimmy must go directly to his home from his job. The same general principle applies to the other exceptions. If Jimmy takes a detour, he violates the curfew.
There are also public service exceptions to the curfew rule. If your teen driver is a volunteer firefighter, volunteer E.M.S., or is an assigned driver in the Safe Ride Program, and is actively participating in one of these activities, the curfew does not apply to them during their participation. But again, they must travel directly to and from home and the activity. There can be no intervening stops along the way.
If your teenage driver violates either of these restrictions, as a first-time offender they face a 30-day suspension of their driver’s license by the DMV, mandatory payment of $175 license restoration fee to the DMV, and court charges which will likely involve additional fines, fees, and costs. For a second offense, the license suspension period is extended to six months, and the court charges will have greater penalties.
The Laws in Practice
Consider These Facts: Jimmy goes to the Junior Prom. Sue is his date. Jimmy and Sue both live in Shelton and they both attend Shelton High School. Jimmy and Sue are 17 years old. Jimmy has been licensed for five months. The Junior Prom is held in the Ball Room of a New Haven hotel. The prom ends at 10:30 p.m. The after-prom party is held at Shelton High School, and it starts at 10:30 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m.
Here are some things to think about and discuss with your teenager:
Q: Can Jimmy drive Sue to the Junior Prom or the after-prom party?
A: NO. Jimmy can’t have Sue as a passenger in his car. Sue is a fellow teenager. She is not one of the narrow exceptions to the restricted passenger rule. Sadly, there is no prom date exception!
Q: Jimmy helps clean up the balloons and streamers. He doesn’t leave New Haven until 11:15 p.m. Can Jimmy drive himself to the after-prom party?
A: YES. Jimmy can drive from one school-sponsored activity to the next school-sponsored activity. This is an exception to the curfew rule.
Q: It’s midnight, and Jimmy is leaving New Haven on his way to the after-prom party. Jimmy’s friend Bobby wants a ride to the after-prom. Bobby wants Jimmy to come and pick him up at his home in Shelton. Can Jimmy drive Bobby?
A: NO. Passenger restriction and curfew rule prohibit Jimmy from driving to Bobby’s house and giving Bobby a ride to the after-prom party.
Q: Jimmy leaves the after-prom at 4:30 a.m. Can Jimmy drive straight home?
A: YES. Jimmy can drive directly home from the school-sponsored after-prom party.
Q: Jimmy stays at the after-prom party and helps clean up at the high school. He leaves at 5:30 a.m. Can Jimmy stop for breakfast on his way home?
A: YES. The curfew ends at 5 a.m. Jimmy can drive himself for breakfast before going home.
Q: Can Jimmy have alcohol because it’s prom?
A: NO!!! Connecticut has zero-tolerance for alcohol use or possession by anyone who is under 21 years old. Jimmy is only 17 years old. If he is found using or in possession of alcohol, he faces suspension of his driver’s license and prosecution in court.
Answering Your Questions
As you can see, there is a lot to think about when your son or daughter drives themselves to prom. You need to know these rules and go over driving situations with your teenager ahead of time. Having a real discussion with your teenager about these issues is highly important.