Teen Drivers and Risk Factors

Billy Cunningham

Billy Cunningham

The following  article, about teen drivers and their risk factors was recently posted on the  TAOS Injury Layers website.  The lawyers at Burns, Cunningham & Mackey are members of TAOS Injury Lawyers along with lawyers all over the country.   It is copied here because addressing these issues is important for all of us.



Teen Drivers and Risk Factors


The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16 to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six teens ages 16 to 19 died every day in 2014 from injuries sustained during a motor vehicle accident.15862-a-teen-girl-texting-while-driving-pv

Everyone that shares the road should be vigilant of risk factors that contribute to higher risk of injury. Parents especially should make it clear to teen drivers what those risk factors are. Discuss how to mitigate risk, and support prevention at every opportunity.

Teen Risk Factors 

If you have teen drivers, or know teen drivers, discuss these risk factors with them to help illustrate how they might mitigate these risks; not just for themselves, but also for the safety of other drivers on the road:

  1. .Underestimating Dangerous Situations –Bad weather conditions, roadway construction, or poor nighttime visibility are all good reasons to slow down and exercise more caution than usual. However, teen drivers regularly underestimate the safety of these hazards, and often make critical decision errors that would not have been made by a more experienced driver.
  2. Speeding – Teens are notorious for speeding and shortening the distance between themselves and the driver in front of them. According to one study, the presence of a teen male passenger increases the likelihood of this dangerous behavior.
  3. Late Nights and Weekends – In 2014, half of all teen deaths caused by car accidents occurred between 3:00 p.m. and midnight. More than half occurred on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
  4. Distracted Driving – Cell phones are great for parents that want to keep better track of where their teens are, but cell phones also pose new driving challenges, particularly for young drivers. Distracted driving is commonly a result of cell phone use while driving and is hazardous for everyone on the road.
  5. Seat Belt Use – Only 61% of teens report always wearing their seatbelt. Seat belt use has been proven to reduce death and injury by as much as 50% when worn. Buckling up could save a teen’s life in a serious accident.
  6. Male Drivers and Drinking – Male drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 that were involved in a car crash in 2014 were speeding 35% of the time, and 24% had been drinking.

These are contributing risk factors for teen drivers and good talking points to discuss with them before they drive unsupervised.


One of the first things you should discuss with a teen driver is seat belt use. In 2014, of the teen passengers that died, more than half were not wearing their seatbelt.

Even in states without primary seat belt laws, parents and guardians should advocate for seat belt use among teens. Seat belt use has been proven to reduce serious crash-related injuries by as much as 50 percent.

Drinking and driving is another serious threat to teen drivers. Anyone less than 21 years of age is subject to a zero tolerance rule. It is illegal for teens to drink alcohol, but it’s worse when they get behind a wheel and drive.  This type of behavior should be prevented, even if it means admitting to illegal alcohol consumption.

Graduated driver licensing programs (GDL) are the best way for teen drivers to learn the skills they need to be successful on the road. All states have these programs, which provide more opportunities to practice driving. Limit teen drivers from driving during unsafe conditions, and promote greater involvement from parents.

By discussing risk factors with teen drivers and practicing prevention tactics, everyone can help increase safety for all who share the road.


Texting Equals Prison

We all know texting distract drivers. They are warnings everywhere. Here is one that should get your attention, keep your eyes on the road and away from texting: Jonathan Mikeal Raynes is going to spend 2 years in the Alabama State penitentiary because he was texting when his car struck another car killing its driver. He will then be on probation for two years and if he violates that probation, he will spend 8 years in jail. http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/04/judge_calls_for_prison_time_in.html

You say it will not happen to me. Who is Mr. Raynes? From all reports, he is not a thug, a gang member, a hoodlum or bad guy. He wasn’t speeding, driving drunk or intentionally reckless. He was working – making deliveries for his father’s auto parts business when the wreck happened. The result of his texting is more than his prison time. He also has to live with the death of a 24 year old recent college graduate and the effect her death has on her family.

A fellow trial lawyer friend of mine, Mike Ferrara of New Jersey http://www.ferraralawfirm.com/ recently posted some interesting facts about the effects of texting in the United States. Distracted driving was linked to 1.4 million crashes in New Jersey between 2004-2013. These account for nearly half of all motor vehicle accidents during this period. At any given time on U.S. roads, there are 660,000 vehicles being driven by someone using a hand-held phone. In 2013, 10 percent of all drivers aged 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.

Texting while driving and has already been banned in 46 states. Alabama is one of those states. The ban on hand held cell phone conversations is not as strong. Talking on the cell phone is distracting as well. Research has shown that texting and driving is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Because texting is used regularly by younger people, drivers under 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

You say “I don’t text. Why should I be worried?” It goes back to what my father taught me in the 60’s- defensive driving. Do not assume the other guy is going to do what is right. Do not assume that his blinker means he is really going to turn. Don’t assume he is going to stop at that stop sign. Don’t assume anything. Be wary. Keep a look out. The Raynes fatal wreck occurred when he swerved into oncoming traffic. Unexpected.

The National Safety Council observes April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month to draw attention to this epidemic. It urges us all to recognize this month, talk to others about distracted driving and practice safe driving techniques ourselves. It has a great webpage on what you can do to be safer http://www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving.aspx It asks you take the Focused Driver Challenge and pledge to drive cell free.

I pledge to Take Back My Drive for my own safety and for others with whom I share the roads. I choose to not drive distracted in any way – I will not:

-Have a phone conversation – handheld, hands-free, or via Bluetooth
-Text or send Snapchats
-Use voice-to-text features in my vehicle’s dashboard system
-Update Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, Vine or other social media
-Check or send emails
-Take selfies or film videos
-Input destinations into GPS (while the vehicle is in motion)
-Call or message someone else when I know they are driving

Take the pledge to your children or other loved ones that you will be an attentive driver. Share your pledge on social media.

We all know distracted driving is a problem that is 100 percent preventable. Before you are tempted to send a text message, remember the dangers of distracted driving. Do what you can do to prevent tragedy from striking in your life! Don’t risk your life and others. Don’t spend part of your life behind bars. You do not have to live with a preventable error that cost another’s life. Don’t drive while texting or distracting. Pass it on- but not by texting when driving!.