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Car Accidents Involving Teen Drivers

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Jeff Sevey

Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death for our nation’s teenage drivers. Accidents that involve teenage drivers often involve other innocent victims as well. Because of this, the teenager’s parents may be held responsible for the actions and injuries caused by their daughter or son.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that about 3000 teens die each year in traffic accidents. About one-fifth, or 20%, of 16-year old drivers will be involved in an accident during their very first year of driving. Some additional statistics about teenage drivers are as follows:

  • The crash rate for 16-year-olds is 3.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The crash rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The citation rate for 16-year-olds is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The citation rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.1 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The drunk driving crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The drunk driving crash rate for 16 to 19-year-old drivers is 1.9 times higher than drivers of all ages.

Parental Liability In California

The state of California requires that parents sign a consent form that allows their teenage (under 18 years old) son or daughter to drive. When they sign this consent form, they automatically assume any and all liability for accidents caused by their teenage driver. This is what is known as parental liability.

Once a child turns 18 years of age, the parents are released from liability. They can also release their liability earlier than that by filing a Request for Cancellation, or a Surrender of Driver’s License. If this is done, the teenager will automatically and immediately lose their driving privileges and driver’s license.

Parents loaning a car to a teenage driver who causes an accident can be liable through what is called vicarious liability. This would apply when someone causing an accident was driving a car that isn’t their own.

Additionally, parents can be held liable for accidents caused by their teen drivers who have had previous DUI arrests or have drug or alcohol issues that they are aware of.

Teenagers have the potential to be poor drivers. They have much less life experience, as well as experience behind the wheel. They are far more distracted with friends and phones, and it is possible they don’t assume the responsibility of driving with the respect that it deserves. When your teenager turns sixteen and receives their driver’s license, your auto insurance is going to skyrocket, and theirs will be expensive, too. If your teenager causes an accident, your insurance premiums will continue to increase, their policy premiums will increase, or your policies will be cancelled outright by the insurance company because you are now a high risk client.

Driving Rules for Teenagers

Each individual teen is going to be different. As a parent, your job is to make the decision whether your teen is ready for the huge responsibility and risk that comes with having a driver’s license and driving a potentially deadly weapon. If you do feel as if they can handle the responsibility, the NHTSA encourages you to keep a concrete set of rules, the breaking of which will result in immediately losing their license and their ability to drive. These rules include a ban on cellphones while driving, absolutely no drinking and driving, no more than one passenger in the car, and the religious use of their seatbelt.

What makes our teenagers such risky drivers? Here is a list of the main factors creating that risk:

  • Inadequate Hazard Detection - When you drive, you need to be aware of everything around you, all the time. Your ability to do this depends on being able to perceive information and process/identify it correctly - namely, potential threats. This is a learned skill that teenage drivers simply have not had the experience to acquire.
  • Inadequate Risk Perception - The ability to assess your surroundings and potential threats subjectively will increase your ability to deal with those threats. Because of lack of experience, young drivers underestimate the risks involved in hazardous situations, and overestimate their abilities to avoid or respond to threats.
  • Lack of Skill - As mentioned in the two points above, teens simply lack the experience to have mastered correctly handling a vehicle, and driving safely.
  • Risk Taking - Teenagers love to take risks and push boundaries. When this occurs while driving, it can become dangerous and even deadly very quickly.
  • Not Wearing Seat belts - Always wearing a seatbelt should be one of those hard-and-fast, absolutely not-optional rules of the road for your teenager.
  • Drugs and Alcohol - Teens are going to drink, and we have to hope that they will not drive. Of course, teens who drive while under the influence of any substance are at a much greater risk of serious or fatal crashes because of their lack of experience behind the wheel, and their lower tolerance for substances due to their age.
  • Many Passengers in the Vehicle - It’s fun to be the driver and escort your friends around. But the risk of crashing is nearly four times higher for teenage drivers when there are passengers in the car, as compared to them driving alone. Also, the more passengers carried, the higher the risk of an accident occurring. This is due to distractions while driving, and peer pressure to take more risks. This is especially true for younger male drivers.
  • Driving at Night - Teenage drivers are three times more likely to crash after 9pm than during the day. Driving at night is often difficult for an experienced adult, let alone an inexperienced teenager. They may be tired, and if they are coming home from a party or event, they may have been drinking or taking drugs.

Teenage drivers are clearly in a class of their own. As a parent, teaching your child to drive effectively and safely will reduce the chances of an accident occurring, as will having a non-negotiable set of driving rules.

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