Car Accidents with Teenage Drivers

For parents and adult loved ones, there are very few things more stressful than watching your teenage driver get behind the wheel of a car for the first time—and the second time, and the third time, and so on. If you have a teenage driver, you understand the angst you feel every time your teenager sets out in the car. Of course, there is risk for every driver on the road, but the risk is especially great for accident

In 2019 alone, approximately 2,400 teenagers in the United States aged 13–19 were killed in car accidents. Another 258,000 were injured and had to receive emergency medical treatment as a result of an accident.  In the United States, the leading cause of death for teens is accidental death. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), the most common type of accident for teenagers is motor vehicle accidents.

Which Teen Drivers Are Most at Risk?

Statistically, according to a report by Esurance, 77% of all drivers will have at least one car accident. As if this statistic is not startling enough, the risk of being involved in a car accident is significantly greater for teenagers. The teenagers with the highest risk of motor vehicle crashes are those between the ages of 16 and 19. Teens of this age are nearly three times more likely than drivers over 20 years of age to be involved in a fatal crash.

The CDC reports that there are three categories of teenage drivers that are at heightened risk of being in a car accident. These include:

  • Male teenage drivers.  In 2019, male teenage drivers age 16-19 were more than two times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident than female drivers of the same age. In 2016, male drivers were involved in 34% of crashes; females were involved in only 12%. This may be due to many different variables, including:
    • the ratio of male to female drivers
    • driver aggressiveness
    • the type of vehicle being driven (according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”), males account for 97% of all large truck driver deaths and 91% of all motorcyclist deaths)
  • Teenage drivers who drive with other teens or young adults in the car. You probably don’t need scientific data to know that when a teenage driver is unsupervised, the risk of being in an accident increases when there are other teenage passengers in the car. In fact, the risk of an accident increases with each additional teenager who rides as a passenger in the car. If your teenage driver is going to drive with other teens in the car, they should be supervised.
  • Teenage drivers with a new license.  Driving a motor vehicle is a skill, and driving skills generally improve with experience. Naturally, drivers with little experience are at an increased risk of having an accident. Research from the National Household Travel Survey supports this, showing that the greatest risk of an accident for a driver occurs during the first few months after obtaining a new driver’s license. For example, 16-year-old drivers are 1.5 times more likely, per mile driven, to be in a crash than 18- or 19-year-old drivers.

While accidents cannot be completely avoided, the risk of an accident can be reduced by restricting teenage drivers from driving unsupervised with other teens and by newly-licensed teen drivers exercising particular caution and gaining more experience behind the wheel.

However, if your teenage driver is involved in an accident, knowing what to do when an accident occurs is critical, not only for your teenager’s safety and well-being at the scene of the accident, but for ensuring that your teenager will be fairly compensated for their damages or injuries after the accident.

What Should You Teach Your Teenage Driver about Being in a Car Accident?

Here are ten things your teenage driver should know after a car accident.

1. You are not mad.

You may not believe it, but for most teenage drivers (especially those driving a parent’s car), their immediate reaction after “What just happened?” will be “Mom and Dad are going to be so mad!”  Most likely, this thought will send your teenage driver into a panic and cloud every action they take from that moment on.

At the scene of an accident, however, it is critical that your teenage driver be safe, calm, and reasonable. They cannot panic or just cry on the side of the road, thinking that they are going to be in trouble. They must be mature, level-headed, and think clearly. Driving is an adult activity that demands responsibility, and having assumed that responsibility by driving, they must continue to act responsibly after an accident. Being in a car accident does not relieve drivers of their obligation to protect themselves and others and to abide by the law as a responsible adult. Rather, it requires continued clear thinking and reasoned decision-making.

Like any adult driver involved in their first car accident, a teenage driver is going to be scared, confused, and in need of assistance. If, by chance, your teenage driver caused the accident, they may be upset that they damaged their vehicle or injured or even killed someone. Even after a minor accident, they may experience an unreasonable or intimidating driver who is angry and blaming them for the crash. You should not add to the stress of the situation by having your teenage driver worry that you are going to be upset with them for being involved in an accident or damaging your car.

Instead, you can assist your teenage driver now—even before they are involved in an accident—by assuring them that if they are in an accident, you will not overreact or be angry with them. Most likely, they are already upset and feel guilty for being in a wreck. You should try to make your teen feel confident to call you immediately after an accident so you can help them respond safely and appropriately and comfort them during the aftermath of the very stressful situation they are now in.

You also should express to your teenage driver, before they get behind the wheel, that if they are in an accident and they are at fault (especially if they were using drugs or alcohol, driving recklessly, or were engaged in distracting behavior), there may be serious consequences, but those consequences will not be your focus at the time of the accident. Your teenage driver should know that your only immediate concern is going to be their safety and the safety of others involved in the accident and that they should not be afraid to call you immediately. They should know that by calling you, you can and will help them get through the aftermath of their accident.

If you are not a passenger in their car, you will not be able to directly assist your teenage driver at the scene of an accident. But impressing on your teenager that you will not be mad at them when they call you for assistance and guidance will go a long way toward helping your teenage driver to stay calm and think clearly at the scene of the accident. You can be upset with your teen driver when they are safe at home. But when they call you for help at the scene of an accident, stay calm and help them.  

2.      Move to safety.

Instruct your teenage driver that, once they are sure they are not seriously injured, they should move to a safe place away from continued, on-coming traffic. If possible, they should try to move their vehicle off of the road to avoid any further danger to themselves or other drivers. If they are not able to move their vehicle safely, they should leave the vehicle where it is and retreat to a safe place and wait for assistance.     

3.   Call the Police

As a concerned parent or guardian trying to protect your teenage driver and instill safe driving habits, you may be inclined to prohibit your teen driver from having their cellular phone or mobile device in their possession when they drive. However, if they simply break down in a remote area or are involved a single-vehicle accident and become stranded (such as when they drive off the road or strike an object in the road without involving another vehicle), it will be important that they have access to their phone to call for help. The important lesson to teach your teenage driver is not that they should leave their phone at home but, rather, not to use their phone while driving.

By having their phone with them after an accident, your teenage driver can immediately call for help. Their first call should be “9-1-1” for emergency assistance. Instruct your teenage driver to call 9-1-1 so that local law enforcement can respond to the scene. Once on the scene, the police will:

  • Control the accident scene
  • Direct traffic away from the scene
  • Make sure anyone who is injured receives appropriate medical assistance
  • Interview the parties involved in the accident
  • Collect evidence at the scene
  • Identify possible witnesses to the accident
  • Produce a police report

All of these activities will protect your teenage driver at the scene and will assist in determining who was at fault in the accident. Your teen should not be afraid to call the police, even for a minor accident. It is imperative to instruct your teenage driver to obtain a police report at the scene or, if one is not available at the scene, to obtain information from the police so that a police report can be obtained later.

4.      Call a parent or guardian.

Immediately after they contact the police, your teenage driver should contact you (or another parent or legal guardian). They should not contact teenage friends or post messages on social media—they should call you or a guardian for assistance. While waiting for police to arrive, you can help keep your teen calm and focused on what is happening at the scene. Because of the stress of the situation and the rush of adrenaline it causes, it is possible that your teen will not even be aware that they have been injured. Speaking with a parent or guardian who is calm may settle their own emotions and help them to make clear assessments of their health and safety and the health and safety of others at the scene. If they determine that they are or may have been injured, your presence on the phone may comfort them and reassure them that they are not alone in this situation.

Not only does having you or someone else on the phone help your teenage driver to think clearly and figure out what to do next, it provides an opportunity to avoid confrontation with the other driver. Immediately after the accident, and especially before police arrive, the other driver may be confrontational or attempt to take advantage of your teen’s inexperience and naïveté by trying to get your teen to admit fault. Having you on the phone until the police arrive may help to avoid this confrontation.

5.      Call an attorney.

It is always best to contact an attorney as soon as possible after an accident, especially if the other party is blaming your teen driver for causing the accident or claiming that they are injured or suffered significant property damage. Foster Wallace, LLC, has experienced car accident attorneys who are always ready to assist after a car accident. Whether your teen is at the scene of an accident, at the hospital, or is home after the accident occurs, the attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, will be able to guide you and your teen through the entire post-accident process. We will:

  • Instruct what to do at the scene of the accident
  • Make sure your teen collects all the information they need from the other party (insurance, driver’s license, registration, contact information, etc.)
  • Consult with your teen after the accident
  • Obtain a police report
  • Contact and deal with the insurance companies
  • Assess fault
  • Calculate damages
  • File or respond to all insurance claims
  • Assist with collecting and organizing medical bills
  • File any appropriate legal claims for damages

Even if your teen was not injured in the accident, they may be entitled to compensation for any property damage to their vehicle. The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, will provide a free initial consultation with your teen so that, together, we can determine the best way to proceed to make sure your teen receives the maximum compensation they deserve.

6.      Accept medical attention.

It is important to tell your teenage driver to accept any medical evaluation that an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) offers or certainly any medical treatment that is deemed necessary. Often, teens may feel disinclined, embarrassed, prideful, or perhaps even frightened, to ride in an ambulance or accept medical attention at the scene of an accident. However, it is not unusual for car accident victims to feel normal at the time of the accident but experience symptoms of injuries hours or even days later. It is also possible to suffer internal injuries in an accident and not be aware of it at the time.

Stress to your teenage driver that if they are injured, or even if they are not experiencing any symptoms of injury at the time but suspect that they may have been injured, they should seek or accept a medical evaluation or any medical treatment that is required.    

7.      Do not admit fault.

Your teenage driver should never admit fault at the scene of an accident. Instruct your teen not to admit fault, even if they think they did something wrong. The party who is legally responsible for an accident is not always who it appears to be. “Fault” is a complicated legal concept that even trained attorneys and judges will debate and disagree about. Your teenage driver will not know who was at fault, even if it seems clear. The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, are experienced car accident attorneys and can help your teen assess who was at fault. Your teen should never admit fault unless they have first spoken with an attorney.

Even if your teen did something to cause the accident, the other party also may have contributed to the cause of the accident. Tell your teen that it is best not to discuss the accident with the other driver. Their only statement about the details of the accident should be to the police and to their attorney.

8.      Take pictures.

If your teen is like most, you know that they are experts at snapping pictures on their phone! Well, this is one time you should encourage your teen to take as many pictures as they can! 

Taking pictures at the scene of an accident is critical to collecting evidence related to the accident, determining who may be at fault, and assessing any damages that may have been suffered in the accident. Make sure your teen knows to take pictures of:

  • The environment at the scene of the accident, such as:
  • Weather conditions
  • Traffic signs or signals
  • Skid marks in the road
  • Construction signs in the area
  • Any objects that may have impaired or obstructed safe driving
  • The vehicles involved in the accident
  • Specific damage to any vehicles that may have occurred from the accident
  • Any injuries they may have sustained
  • The condition of the other driver, if possible (for example, do they show signs of intoxication, that they are injured (or not injured), or aggressive or inappropriate behavior?)
  • Any persons in the area who might have witnessed the accident or serve as a potential witness

Not all pictures will be relevant but many can be used to demonstrate who may be at fault for the accident or the nature and extent of someone’s injuries or property damage. This evidence will help your teen to prove fault and recover appropriate compensation for their damages.

9.      Identify witnesses.

Let your teenage driver know that it is okay to speak to witnesses at the scene of the accident to learn their version of what happened. If they identify someone who saw what happened, they should write down the witness’s contact information, including:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Telephone or cellular phone number
  • Email address
  • Any other contact information that the witness may offer

Your teen should not be shy to ask any bystanders at the scene if they saw what happened.  If they are unable to inquire, the police should attempt to identify potential witnesses and should record their contact information in a police report. Once their attorney has the police report, they can begin to contact witnesses and collect evidence and testimony relevant to the case.

10.    Keep track of expenses.

Hopefully, if your teen is injured in their accident, they will quickly be on the “road to recovery.” Whether their recovery is extended or short, recovery can be expensive. Your teen may be compensated for their expenses. Compensation may include the cost of:

  • Hospital bills
  • Prescription medicine
  • Any treatment for injuries
  • X-rays or other medical tests or procedures
  • Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Follow-up doctor visits
  • Travel expenses
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Lost income and wages
  • Vehicle repair
  • Car rental

Instruct and help your teen to record and keep all receipts for any expenses incurred as a result of their accident. To be fully compensated for their damages, your teen must not only show that the other party was at fault, but that your teen suffered recoverable damages as a result.

Brian Wallace
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Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney