Teen Driving Safety
– By Michael Hancock
After having a successful year in 2010 campaigning for states to pass texting bans, AAA is dedicating its efforts this year to encourage states to up the ante on their teen safety driving programs. Car accidents remain the leading cause of death among teens and young adults ages 15 to 20. Statistics show that 16-year-old drivers have a 15 times greater crash rate than drivers with as little as four more years driving experience.
While all 50 states have adopted graduated driver’s licensing programs for teen drivers, these programs vary widely in their requirements. Some of the requirements AAA would like to see states adopt uniformly include:
- Limits on the number of passengers
- Limits on nighttime driving hours
- Increased number of supervised practice driving hours
- Cell phone bans for novice drivers
AAA would also like to see every state adopt a texting ban, if only for young drivers. Teen drivers are more likely to be distracted while driving and texting is by far the biggest potential distraction to come between a teen driver and concentrating on the road. A September 2010 survey conducted by State Farm Insurance found that most teens do not think texting and driving is dangerous. More than half of the teenagers surveyed said that they believed they were more likely to be hurt in a car accident from drinking and driving than from texting.
Other studies, however, have confirmed that texting and driving is at least – if not more – dangerous than drinking and driving, especially for inexperienced drivers. According to a study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who text while behind the wheel have a 23 times greater risk of being in a car accident than those who do not text. Comparatively, drivers who drove while intoxicated had a four times increased risk of being in a car crash.
Florida’s Teen Driving Safety Laws Need Work
There are only five states that currently have teen driver safety laws that meet the AAA’s suggestions – and Florida is not one of them.
Florida’s graduated driver licensing program meets some of the requirements, like limiting nighttime driving hours and mandating teen drivers have at least 50 hours practice driving with a parent or guardian. But Florida’s program does not place a limit on the number of passengers young drivers can have with them nor does the state place any restrictions on teen drivers using a cell phone or texting while driving.
Passing a texting ban in Florida has been a point of much contention. In 2010, there were more than two dozen proposals that would have banned texting and/or required drivers to use a hands-free cell phone device, but not one of them made it past the legislature to the Governor’s desk.
This year, state legislators are making another attempt to pass a texting ban. One of the bills, called the Minor Traffic Safety Act, would give the police the authority to ticket minors for sending text messages and talking on cell phones while driving. It also would limit the number of passengers teen drivers may have and require teen drivers to display special tags in their vehicles identifying them as novice drivers.
It is unclear at this point whether Florida’s lawmakers will succeed where they have failed in the past. There are several reasons the texting ban did not pass in previous years, including disagreements over whether the law should apply to all drivers or only young drivers and whether the law should be primary or secondary enforcement (i.e. whether the police will have the authority to stop a driver who is caught texting). There also were concerns about the feasibility of enforcing the law.
What Parents Can Do to Help Protect Their Teen Drivers
Whether or not Florida passes stronger teen driving laws this year, there are still steps parents can take in their own homes to make their teenagers safer drivers.
First and foremost, parents should make it clear that it is not acceptable for their young drivers to talk on a cell phone or text while driving. Equally important, parents need to set specific punishments that will happen if their children violate their rules – and enforce those punishments.
Some other safety rules parents should set include:
- Always wear seatbelts
- No drinking and driving
- No nighttime driving (or driving after a set curfew)
- Limits on the number of passengers in the vehicle
- No iPods or loud music while driving
- No speeding
Perhaps the most important thing parents can do is set a good example. A study conducted jointly by SADD and Liberty Mutual in 2007 found that parents are one of the biggest influencing factors on how teens drive. If teens see their parents talking on cell phones, checking their text messages and engaging in other distractions while driving, then they are more likely to think it is acceptable for them to do so too.
Distracted drivers, teens and adults alike, are responsible for thousands of deaths in the US each year. If you have been involved in an accident caused by a distracted driver, contact an attorney to learn more about your legal options. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and other losses, including current and future medical expenses, lost wages and earnings, repair or replacement costs for your vehicle and other damages.