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Fatal Crash a Reminder for Parents to Talk with their Teen Drivers

Deadly driving accidents seem to be a daily occurrence on Long Island these days. Anyone who picks up a copy of Newsday on a regular basis is all but certain to read about lives lost and serious injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents.  Unfortunately, the issue of teen driving fatalities has recently been making headlines here on Long Island when, earlier this month,  a W.T. Clarke High School student was tragically killed in a car accident in Westbury – with two teen passengers in his car also badly injured and the driver of another car injured as well.

The initial media reports about this particular accident suggested a high rate of speed and failure to obey a stop sign in a residential area where the posted speed limit is 30 MPH, as well as failure to wear a seat belt.  The tragedy is a sad reminder for parents to talk with their teen children about the potential risks associated with driving.  Driving is inherently dangerous; the privilege of a driver’s license comes with tremendous responsibility. That responsibility is only heightened when a teen driver has passengers in the car.  And when young, inexperienced drivers do not obey the speed limits and Vehicle and Traffic Law there can be criminal and civil penalties that they never knew or thought they were exposed to, with repercussions both for them and for their families.

Young drivers often do not know that traffic tickets can quickly lead to the suspension or revocation of their driving privileges from the Department of Motor Vehicles, not to mention hundreds to thousands of dollars in fines. For example, if a driver is pulled over while traveling at 40 MPH over the speed limit they are exposed to an 11 point speed violation and IMMEDIATE suspension of their driving privileges, regardless of their potential clean driving history.  An individual driving at 30 MPH over the speed limit (8 point violation) but also running a Stop Sign or Red Light (3 point violation) again creates exposure to an IMMEDIATE license suspension. Another thing to consider is that District Attorney’s Offices all over New York State are increasingly filing additional criminal charges against individuals who drive in the manner outlined above. They are often charged with Reckless Driving, a Misdemeanor punishable by jail time, or Reckless Endangerment, which, depending on the facts, can be either a Misdemeanor or a Felony, the latter of which can carry an upstate prison sentence. If a driver were to kill another person while driving in a reckless manner, that driver could even face charges of Manslaughter which can carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Aside from the threat of criminal sanctions, another consideration that must be discussed with young drivers is that irresponsible driving can expose both drivers and their parents to potential lawsuits. Accidents where individuals are severely hurt or killed often result in multi-million dollar lawsuits which can subject impact the assets of the teens and their parents. Those assets may include homes, cars, and hard-earned savings.

When a teenager first gets his or her license, often the last thing on their mind is the potential criminal or civil penalties associated with reckless or careless driving.  But we see the consequences of such driving at our law firm on a daily basis.  While we do our best as lawyers to put back together the lives and families torn apart in these cases, it is vital for parents to regularly discuss these serious issues with their young drivers.

There are a number of new laws concerning teen drivers that many parents may not even be aware of – including a new state law that went into effect in September 2010 requiring that all drivers under 18 have no more than one non-family member under 21 as a passenger.  There are a number of key points and issues that parents, and their teens, certainly need to understand about teen driving and the law these days – and the lawyers at Collins, McDonald & Gann will gladly consult with any parent, free of charge, to help reinforce these points to their teen drivers.

If there was ever a time for parents to be reminded to have a discussion with their teens about safe driving, that time is now – before another tragedy strikes our youngest, and most inexperienced, drivers.  Make sure that you, as a parent, understand current legislation in New York regarding teen driving … and make sure to communicate to your teen the dangerous consequences, both physical and legal, of reckless driving.  It’s a discussion that no parent should put off … and a discussion that can change the course of your child’s future.

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