Accidents involving teenage drivers can result in serious injuries. Teens cause fatal car crashes at a higher rate than older drivers and motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths. If a negligent teenage driver caused your injuries or the death of a loved one, you may be able to recover compensation.
Why Teenage Drivers Cause Accidents
Teenage drivers tend to engage in more risky driving behaviors due to their inexperience behind the wheel and immaturity. They also have unique risk factors that influence the rates at which they cause accidents.
Nine people die in the United States every day because of crashes caused by distracted drivers. Crash data shows that more distracted teenage drivers cause fatal accidents than older drivers. Texting is a common source of distraction, with 39% of high school students reporting that they email or text while driving.
Texting while driving increases collision risk by 23 times. Other sources of distraction for teenage drivers include talking on the phone, eating or drinking and other passengers in the vehicle. Texting or talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal for all California drivers and drivers under the age of 18 are also not permitted to talk on hands-free devices while driving.
When teen drivers have only teenage passengers in the car with them, the fatality rate for people involved in a crash with them increases by 51%. This figure includes a 56% higher fatality rate for the occupants of other vehicles, a 45% higher rate for the teen driver and a 17% higher rate for cyclists and pedestrians.
The presence of other teens in the vehicle may increase the likelihood of fatalities due to distractions and encouragement to engage in risky behaviors, such as speeding or consuming alcohol. Teens who have a provisional driver's license may not have teen passengers for the first year after they get their license or until they turn 18 years old.
Teenage drivers tend to cause the most accidents within the first few months after they get their driver's licenses. As teens gain more driving experience, their collision rates tend to go down, particularly after the first year.
Drugs and Alcohol
Any amount of alcohol can impair a person's ability to drive. Research indicates that alcohol or drugs were a factor in 19% of fatal accidents involving teenage drivers in 2020. California has a zero-tolerance law for teenage drivers who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Speed is a factor in many collisions that involve teenage drivers, particularly collisions that cause severe injuries. In 2020, speeding was a factor in 31% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.
Driving at Night
All drivers face a higher collision risk when driving at night due to poor visibility. However, nighttime collision risk is particularly high for inexperienced drivers. Teens experience their highest collision risk on weekend nights. For this reason, drivers with a provisional license may not drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first year or until they turn 18.
About 4.2% of teenage drivers in the United States report driving at least an hour per week without a license. Young, unlicensed drivers are more likely to cause fatal crashes than other drivers.
Researchers estimate that drowsy driving contributes to 10-20% of injury crashes or fatal crashes. Teenagers tend to have very full schedules involving jobs, school, extracurricular activities and time with friends. Many teenagers sacrifice sleep to fit everything in which can increase their risk of causing a car accident.
Teen Driving Rules
Teenage drivers receive a provisional license and instruction permit that places restrictions on their driving privileges for the first year after they obtain their license, or until they turn 18 years old. Teens must have the consent of a parent to obtain a license.
California law makes the person who signed and verified the application of a teenage driver jointly and severally liable for any damages that result from the teen's operation of a motor vehicle until the teen turns 18. This means that a person who has injuries because of a negligent teenage driver can pursue the driver, the person who signed the driver's application or both for damages.
This person is usually a parent or guardian, but may sometimes be an employer, child protective services worker or probation officer. Exceptions may apply to some employers and those acting as an officer of the court.
To recover damages from the parent of a teen driver, you must prove four elements:
- The teen's negligent driving caused the accident.
- The accident caused your injuries and other damages.
- The parent signed the teen's driver's license application.
- The teen had a valid driver's license at the time of the accident.
Parents may choose to withdraw their consent for their teenage driver to have a license. If they do, the teen immediately loses all driving privileges. However, if a parent gives a teen permission to drive a vehicle, the parent may be liable even if the teen does not have a valid driver's license.
Defenses to Parental Liability
Parents may be able to avoid liability for their teen's driving if they can prove that the teen was not the driver of the vehicle, the parent did not sign or verify the teen's driver's license application, the parent withdrew consent for the teen to drive or the teen was driving the car because of an emergency.
Most teenage drivers do not have the resources to pay for damages they cause in a car accident. However, as with most adult drivers, the first place most injured parties will turn for compensation is the driver's or vehicle owner's auto insurance.
All drivers and vehicle owners must be able to demonstrate financial responsibility. For most people, this means purchasing liability insurance. The minimum limits allowable are $15,000 for the death or injury of a single person and a total of $30,000 for the death or injury of more than one person. Additionally, California drivers must purchase a minimum of $5,000 liability insurance for damage to the property of other people.
Teenage drivers may have their own insurance policies or their parents' policies may cover them. If both the teen and the parent have coverage, you may be able to recover from both insurance companies in some cases.
Types of Damages You Can Recover
If you have injuries, property damage or have lost a loved one due to a teenage driver's negligence, you may be able to recover economic and non-economic damages. Medical bills, lost wages, lost future earnings and the cost to repair or replace your vehicle are examples of economic damages. Pain and suffering, emotional distress and other intangible harms that do not carry a specific monetary value are examples of non-economic damages.
Help for People Injured by Teenage Drivers
Recovering damages from a teenage driver may involve seeking compensation from multiple parties. The California teen car accident lawyers at Johnson Attorneys Group can help protect your rights and recover the compensation you deserve. Johnson Attorneys Group does not charge you a fee unless they win or settle your case. Contact us at 1-800-208-3538 for a free case evaluation.