Driving Dangers Increase in Summer, Especially for Teens

Santa Clara County Personal Injury Attorney Gives Advice

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The Beach Boys sang of fun in the sun, but in California, as in the rest of the country, enjoying summer must be tempered with awareness of increased driving risks - especially for teenagers. Nationally, 11 teenagers a day are killed in car crashes, which are the leading cause of death among people 15-20 years old. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest of all.

Learning to drive can be challenging any time of year for teenagers. Inexperience is one part of it, of course. But theres also the fact that the teenage brain is still developing; indeed, its the last organ in the body to reach maturity. You dont need to be an expert in adolescent neurology to know that smart kids can do stupid things. Its the teen brain paradox, by which teens who are very proficient in many different types of thought often make very poor, sometimes impulsive decisions that compromise their health and safety. This happens because the frontal lobe of the brain, where judgment is located and risk is controlled, may not be fully developed until age 25.

Summer Dangers on the Road

The fatality rate for teenage drivers increases in the summer for several reasons. With no school, many youth receive less adult supervision from teachers and parents. When kids get in the car, their outings often have no clear purpose or destination, which traffic safety experts have shown are always more dangerous than regular trips to school or work. On these purposeless trips, drivers usually dont know the routes as well and are more likely to be distracted by the presence of passengers - perhaps in search of parties when they would be in bed if it were a school night.

When cell phones, text messaging, alcohol, speeding and failure to wear seat belts are added to the mix, the result is far too often tragically lethal. In California alone, 4,486 people died in motor vehicle crashes between 2003 and 2008, and a disproportionate number of these people were teenagers. Nonfatal crashes are also common, as teenagers have a higher crash rate even than people in their 90s.

Creating the Structure to Promote Safety

Controlling teenage driving risks and promoting safety requires responsible action from all concerned, starting with parents and teens themselves, and also including government authorities. On the governmental level, California has adopted graduated driver licensing (GDL). Novice drivers must be at least 15 years, six months to get provisional instruction permits, also known as learners permits. This age would increase to 16 if proposed federal legislation passes. Known as the STAND UP act and now before Congress, the law would create a national driving age standard of 16. States would need to comply with this or face the loss of highway funding money.

Novice California drivers are also restricted from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and in the number of passengers allowed. This means no passengers under 20 in the first 12 months of driving, unless the driver is supervised by a licensed adult driver who is at least 25. Full driving privileges are potentially available at age 17, but only with the completion of 50 supervised hours of driving, 10 of which must be at night.

California also restricts the use of cell phone and text messaging while driving. Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Teen drivers also fall under a statewide ban on text messaging while driving. The question, however, is how effective the enforcement of these restrictions really is when the fine for a first offense may be as little as $20.

Personal Responsibility

With enforcement of safety restrictions uncertain, the acceptance of personal responsibility by teenagers and their parents becomes even more vital. Studies have shown that when parents set firm rules for their teenage childrens driving, those teens are more likely to stay safe. These rules can include:

  • Keeping to a curfew that minimizes or eliminates night driving
  • Wearing a seat belt at all times
  • Avoiding alcohol and other drugs
  • Staying within the speed limit
  • No texting or talking on a cell phone while driving
  • No radio, CD or iPod while driving

Family driving rules can be formalized in a safe driving contract, setting forth clear guidelines and equally clear consequences for risky behavior.

With improved legislation, effective enforcement and the acceptance of personal responsibility, America should be able to stop losing 11 teenage lives every day. In our car-driven, technologically dependent culture, the issues posed by various forms of distracted driving will keep pressing for better resolution. In the meantime, what matters most is saving lives. And for those who have been injured, and the families of those who have been killed, it may be time to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer about how to best to legally bind up those wounds and move forward.

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