Are California Safety Laws Too Lax for Teen Drivers?

by Staff Blogger | April 6th, 2020

Is California law too lax on teen drivers?

California drivers know that our state’s traffic laws are some of the strictest in the nation. However, some safety groups, such as the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (AHAS), say that when it comes to teen drivers, our laws might not go far enough.

AHAS evaluates laws concerning distracted driving, seat belt usage, and teen drivers to determine their effectiveness at reducing accidents. Though California scores well overall, it falters when it comes to teen driving laws.

Why Does California Fall Short on Teen Driving Laws?

Though California currently bans first-year drivers from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., AHAS suggests that the ban should begin an hour earlier and include drivers up to the age of 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 40% of crashes involving teens (as both drivers and passengers) happen between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

California also bans first-year drivers from transporting passengers under the age of 20 unless they’re traveling with a licensed parent, driving instructor, or driver age 25 or over. AHAS suggests that California extend that restriction to include drivers up to the age of 18.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research suggests that fatality rates for teen drivers increased by 45% when their passengers are other teens. The fatality risk increases even more (56%) for occupants of vehicles that are involved in crashes with teen drivers. For each additional teen passenger that a teen driver transports, the greater the risk of a crash.

Understanding the Risks Young Drivers Face

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, who are three times more likely than drivers age 20 and over to be in a fatal crash.

AHAS’s push to broaden the scope of these bans is a much-needed effort, and it’s backed by research; a 2017 National Household Travel Survey found that the crash-per-mile rate for 16-year-old drivers is 1.5 times greater than it is for 18- and 19-year-old drivers.

Studies consistently show that teen drivers engage in riskier behavior than older drivers. For example, teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and follow vehicles too closely. They’re also less likely to wear seat belts.

California’s Teen Driving Laws Get Some Things Right

Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from cell phone use of any kind when behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, even with hands-free functionality. Because younger drivers are more likely to engage in distracting activities while driving, laws that restrict mobile device use of any kind could save lives.

Critics of these laws cite a study showing that, despite stricter laws in California regarding mobile device usage by drivers, the rate of drivers using their phones behind the wheel actually increased the following year. But advocates insist that laws take time to make an impact, and they often reference California’s seat belt laws to make their point.

When the state announced its seat belt requirement in 1985, seat belt use increased from about 20% to 40%. By 1997, compliance had risen to about 88%. By 2016, compliance rates reached approximately 97%.

Preventing Teen Driver Crashes Requires More Than Just Laws

Studies show that parents have many ways to keep teen drivers safe, and it starts with setting a good example. A 2018 study found that approximately half of parents driving with children in their vehicles talked on their cell phones, while one-third read text messages in front of their children while driving.

Parents also expect their children to respond when they call, even when their teens are driving. Research suggests that more than half of teens who talk on their phones while driving talked to a parent, compared to 46% who talk to friends.

A parent’s presence inside the vehicle is enough to make a difference; AAA found that when a teen driver is accompanied by someone age 35 or older, their fatality risk decreases by 8%.

If You’re Injured in a Crash, Contact Berg Injury Lawyers

Berg Injury Lawyers represents injured people throughout Northern California to help get them the compensation they deserve. We know how quickly things can go from bad to worse when you’ve been injured by a reckless or distracted driver, so consider contacting an attorney as quickly as possible after an accident.

If you need legal assistance, we’re here to help. Contact the California car accident attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free case review.