With school starting, teen drivers are out in full force. Some startling statistics remind us of the risks teen drivers and their parents face. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death in teens is personal injuries from motor vehicle accidents. Drivers ages 16-19 are three times more likely than drivers 20 or older to be in a fatal crash. The death rate for males in this age category is twice that of females. The crash rate is highest, of course, in the first few months following teen licensing. The good news is that Rhode Island has a graduated driver licensing system that helps reduce teen crash rates. The program requires new drivers under 18 to graduate multiple stages of supervised driving before driving unrestricted.
Parents can alert teens to common, risky or illegal behaviors that increase crash rates, including: driving with teen (especially male or multiple) passengers, speeding, failing to allow headway for the car in front, failing to wear a seat belt, and driving under the influence. Rhode Island law prohibits teens under 18 from using a cell phone in any capacity (such as texting or talking) – except emergencies – while driving. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-22-11.9.)
Parents should also know that if a teen causes an accident due to risky or illegal behavior, both the parent and teen may be held liable for resulting financial damages, in addition to traffic fines. Under Rhode Island law, a teen driving his or her parent’s car with consent – express or implied – is considered the parent’s agent, and thus the law holds both the parent/owner of the vehicle and the teen/driver financially responsible following an accident. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-33.6.)