Receiving a driver's license is a rite of passage and a major milestone on the journey from child to young adult. While teens are excited for this moment, parents inevitably worry about safety. Young, inexperienced drivers can also pose a danger to other travelers, making teen drivers a community-wide concern. In recent years, discussions about teen driving safety have focused on the issues of distracted driving and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There is much less attention paid to another threat, a threat that our experience as a Panama City car accident law firm suggests may actually be a greater danger: teens and speeding.
Although this post will not focus on the numbers, a quick look at some statistics will provide background to a discussion of the reasons teens speed and the possible solutions to the problem. Earlier this year, the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report titled "Speeding-Related Fatal Crashes Among Teen Drivers and Opportunities for Reducing the Risks" (the Report). Going beyond the fact that teens are more likely to be involved in a crash than adult drivers, the Report notes an increased danger posed when teens speed. Statistics show that speed is more likely to be a factor in fatal crashes involving teen drivers than fatal crashes involving only adult drivers. This difference is even more pronounced when the teen driver has teen passengers. Overall, speeding is listed as a contributing factor in a full third (33%) of fatal crashes involving teen drivers, while speeding is only listed as a contributing factor in 19% of fatal collisions for drivers ages 26-49 years old. Teens and speed are a deadly combination.
Why are teens more likely to be involved in accidents, particularly speed-related crashes? The study identifies both age and inexperience as factors. Brain development studies show a tendency towards risk-taking and an under-developed sense of judgment in adolescents. Additionally, the influence of peers on teens has biological roots, a link that may help explain why teens are more likely to speed when they are carrying teen passengers. Inexperience behind the wheel is also a factor, especially given the tendency of teens to be over-confident in their abilities. Novice drivers have more difficulty assessing dangers and processing stimuli, which one imagines is even more pronounced when travelling fast. Together, age and inexperience render teens more likely to speed and less adept at handling a fast-moving vehicle and the increased risks created by a faster rate of travel.
What can be done to make the roads safer for teens and those travelling alongside them? The study suggests that driver's education programs need to be revamped based on a close study of outcomes. The Report notes positive outcomes from programs that reinforce advanced vehicle-handling skills and cognitive processing. Graduated driver licensing programs are praised as very effective, especially when tied to identified risk factors. The authors praise limiting the number of passengers a young driver can have in the vehicle (side note: Florida's graduated licensing focuses on hours of operation). The Report also suggests using technology such as speed-monitoring, citing particular success with programs that warn teens of a violation and give them an opportunity to self-correct before sending a notification to their parents. Automated-speed cameras have also been proven effective at reducing speeding in all age groups. The group also emphasizes parental involvement as key to producing responsible teen drivers.
As an accident law firm, we would also suggest the importance of holding teens accountable for their behavior behind the wheel. If someone is old enough to drive, they should be old enough to be held liable if their careless and/or risky driving leads to an injury or even a death. Teens need to see that their actions have consequences and need to see their peers held responsible for dangerous decision-making. There may be reasons why teens engage in riskier behavior, but an explanation is not an excuse. We truly believe that our work as a injury law firm not only helps individual plaintiffs, but also helps the public as a whole by deterring future dangerous acts.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident caused by a teen driver in Northwest Florida, please call. Our Panama City injury attorney can help you recover money damages, and together we can send a clear message that adult privileges carry adult responsibilities.