Experience and Age Matter: The Case Against Teenage Driving

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I grew up watching Disney on the television channel at 6 pm in the 1970s. It was always a treat and Walt Disney World seemed like a magical place that was a world away from Wisconsin. And it was. Located in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando, Walt Disney World was roughly 18 hours and 23 minutes away (1,250 miles) via I-65 South and I-75 South. At the time, most middle-class families traveled by car and we were no exception.

I remember our first trip to Walt Disney world – it was long and somewhat boring – down the asphalt heading South. I was too young to drive and I remember falling asleep for at least one-quarter to one-half of the trip. The free glass of orange juice at the Florida Welcome Center when we crossed the Florida state line was welcomed.

Fast forward to the present. A family of eight from Terrell, Texas decided to make their dream trip to visit Walt Disney World and attempted to make the 16 hour and seven minute trip of just over 1,000 miles. Of the eight occupants in the Chevrolet Tahoe, six were ejected, and five died, including parents Michael and Trudi Hardman, and children, Dakota, 15, Kaci, 4, and Adam, 7. The six family members that were ejected were not wearing their seatbelts. However, the driver of the vehicle, a 16-year-old, did wear his seatbelt and survived.

At the time of the crash, the family had traveled roughly 240 miles east of their starting point. The teenage driver, whose name has not been released, admitted that he fell asleep around 10:30 p.m. The SUV had veered left onto the median when the teenager woke up and overcorrected the vehicle while attempting to get the SUV back on the highway. Consequently, the vehicle rolled over.

The facts are sparse on the driving experience and total hours driven by the teenager prior to this crash. However, I will assume, that the teenager driver never operated a vehicle on the highway at night on a long-range trip like the one he attempted to make to Walt Disney World. For some reason, his parents allowed him to drive an extra large SUV (Tahoe) at night. We will probably never know if the parent in the front passenger seat was asleep or failed to pay attention to the roadway or if any other back seat passengers noticed that the teenage driver was falling asleep or driving erratically.

I don’t think it was wise to allow the teenager to drive the entire family at night on the highway for several reasons. First, it is well established that teenager drivers are already a suspect group for getting involved in accidents. Second, a study in 2012 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study showed that one out of every seven young drivers admitted to falling asleep at least once while driving in the past year. Third, most teenage drivers do not have adequate experience and practice time behind the wheel. As to the study and for purposes of comparison, one out of 10 of all other drivers (excluding 16-24 year olds) admitted to falling asleep at least once in the past year. A 2010 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that young drivers (ages 16-24) were more likely by 78 percent to be drowsy at the time of the collision as compared to drivers age 40-59. The same study reflected that 1 in 6 crashes involved a drowsy driver.

Certain characteristics are typical of drowsy driving collisions. These characteristics include: 1) operating a vehicle at late night hours; 2) crashes involving a driver who falls asleep are typically more serious; 3) a single car leaves the roadway; 4) the collision happens on a high-speed roadway; 5) the driver is alone; and 6) the driver does not attempt to avoid the crash. The instant wreck contains four of the six typical characteristics as the teenager operated the vehicle late at night and his vehicle left the roadway on a high speed highway which resulted in a serious crash.

The panel identified factors that increase the risk of drowsy driving and drowsy-driving wrecks. These factors include sleep loss, driving over increased time period, sedating medication, sleep disorders and alcohol. Again, the facts involved in this wreck do not provide enough information to confirm whether one or more of these factors were present at the time of the wreck. However, once again, I think the factor of exposure of driving for a long period of time may have been a factor.
If there is anything to gain from this unfortunate collision, it is that parents should be aware of the characteristics and factors of drowsy driving coupled with the relative inexperience and lack of accrued real time practice of teenagers behind the wheel before allowing them to operate vehicles. In the future, perhaps, some collisions can be avoided by knowledge of the same.

The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting car accident and trucking collision cases throughout Georgia caused by a drowsy driver. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of the negligence of a motorist, then please contact an experienced injury attorney for a free consultation to document and preserve evidence and present your claim in a competent and timely fashion. We have over 20 years experience and practice throughout the State of Georgia and can come to you. Please call 404-869-6969 or use our toll free number (855) LAW-FORD to secure your rights today!