By Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens.  According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, 9 young people between the ages of 15 and 19 lose their lives every day in car crashes, while another 100 teens are hospitalized with serious injuries. As schools begin to close for summer break, our children will have more time to drive or ride in cars driven by other teens.  Consequently, they’ll face greater risks of accidents, injuries and potentially devastating legal entanglements.  Now is the perfect time to “tune up” your teens’ driving skills and talk to them about the serious legal responsibilities they accept every time they get behind the wheel.

Drivers in Arizona are considered to be the responsible parties for the conditions and activities that go on inside the vehicles they drive.  Your teens should understand that they could be held liable for the conduct of their passengers, so they should know the status of every person they transport and refuse anyone who is or could be in possession of alcohol, drugs, contraband or weapons of any kind.  Knowing the age of each passenger is important because an 18+ “adult” driver could be considered contributing to the delinquency of a minor if they are transporting younger friends during curfew hours without special exemption or parental approval.  Be sure your teen knows about the new Arizona Teen Driver Safety Act which makes it unlawful for a licensed driver under 18 to drive between the hours of 12 am and 5 am. The law also allows authorities to pull a driver over simply because they suspect the driver to be underage.  Routine traffic stops have the potential of becoming more serious for teen drivers, so teach them to avoid situations that could arouse suspicion and counsel them to always behave respectfully and politely whenever in the presence of a police officer.

Driver error causes 75% of accidents involving teens according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.  Inexperience, passenger distractions, cell phone use, speed, tailgating and over-reactions to emergencies are the principle causes of teen accidents.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of teens receive only the most basic driver’s education while in school, and in today’s economy, many schools today are cutting back on these programs to save money.  Learning to drive responsibly and with skill is a lifelong learning process; parents can protect their children from harm (and themselves from liability) by ensuring that their teens receive the best possible training and are occasionally re-exposed to professional instruction and positive role modeling. 

Arizona has the stiffest DUI laws in the country and they apply to minors as well.  Remember that any amount of alcohol in a minor’s body constitutes DUI, so under no circumstances should a minor ever operate a car, boat, bike, golf cart, ATV, scooter or other mode of transportation after drinking even one sip of alcohol.  If your teen is convicted of DUI, he or she will spend at a minimum one full day in jail, pay hefty fines, and have an ignition lock device installed on any car (including yours!) that he or she drives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published a very helpful model contract for parents and teens to use in setting ground rules and defining consequences for driving safety – you’ll find it at http://www.aap.org/publiced/BR_TeenDriver.htm .   Local defensive driving schools offer refresher courses for teens and parents, and intensive, simulator training can be accessed locally by visiting www.drivingmba.com .

Teenagers are at a greater risk of being involved in traffic related incidents as they are often the least experienced drivers on the road. To ensure their rights are protected, Davis|Miles is here to provide legal advice and representation inside and outside of the courtroom for you and your teenagers.  This representation includes, but is not limited to, defending against criminal and civil related traffic offenses as well as representation in the event of an automobile accident.  Please call us today at 480-733-6800.

Your Family & The Law is a monthly article written by Claudia Gilburd, founder of Teen Law School, Inc. and published as a service to Davis|Miles clients and friends.  Teen Law School presents seminars for parents and teens about the laws that govern typical teenage behavior, and advocates for compassionate reforms in juvenile justice.  For more information, please contact info@teenlawschool.com or visit their website at www.teenlawschool.com.