Unfortunately, people are killed every day in car accidents around the country, but those tragedies are compounded when those killed are teenagers who have yet to make their mark in the world. In early March, a 17-year-old was killed in a rollover accident on I-93 in Canton, Massachusetts when the driver of the Jeep Wrangler, also a 17-year-old, apparently tried to cross over several lanes of traffic to get to an exit. His vehicle struck a Toyota Corolla on the ramp that caused the Jeep to roll over, ejecting the decedent who was a rear-seat passenger. He later died of his injuries at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton.
The Toyota driver and the other occupants of the Jeep suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The police reports did not indicate that alcohol, drugs, or distracted driving led to the accident other than a poor decision to risk colliding with other vehicles by swerving across several lanes of traffic so as to not miss an exit.
Importance of Wearing a Seatbelt
First, it is highly likely that the teen who was killed was not wearing a seatbelt since he was ejected from the Jeep in the rollover accident. Rollovers typically occur in vehicles with high centers of gravity after collisions. Wearing a seat belt would certainly have prevented the teen from being ejected. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 83% of people ejected from vehicles in car accidents in 2017 suffered fatal injuries. You are also 30 times more likely to be ejected by not wearing a seatbelt in a rollover or other serious collision. Wearing a seatbelt virtually eliminates that risk. Because none of the other passengers suffered serious injuries or were ejected, we can only assume that the decedent failed to wear one.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts is among the worst states for seatbelt use, consistently lagging behind the national average of 90% usage with about 84% of state drivers reportedly using seatbelts, an uptick from 74% use just a few years ago. Teen drivers and passengers are among those who consistently fail to buckle up moreso than older drivers.
Factors in Teen Driving Accidents
Factors that lead to teen accidents are varied:
- Alcohol and drugs—1 in 6 teen drivers in car accidents test positive for alcohol during the summer months when more teens are on the road
- Distractions—52% of teens report reading a text or email while driving, and 40% admit to sending one, according to AAA
- Inexperience and poor judgement
Car accidents are the number one factor in teen deaths. Although teens go through a gradual licensing process, this does not appear to substantially decrease the prevalence of teen car accidents and deaths.
Although teenagers make up only 14% of the general population, they are involved in about 30% of all car accidents. Summer is an especially deadly time for teen accidents since more teenage drivers are on the roads at any time of the day. During the time from Memorial to Labor Day, teen drivers are 17% more likely to cause an accident than at other times.
Impulsiveness and lack of experience among teen drivers are major culprits according to a New York Times 2016 article that warned the rest of us to be wary of teen drivers. Those who are 16 and 17 are in the most dangerous stages of their lives if they drive or are passengers in cars driven by other teenagers. The article’s author pointed out that though roads and cars have gotten safer, teens have not.
Unless we interview the Jeep driver and the 3 other passengers who survived the Canton accident, we can only surmise as to the cause of the accident. For example, was the driver so distracted that he suddenly realized that the exit ramp was approaching and he could only get to it by swerving over several lanes at a high rate of speed? Studies show that teen accidents are higher when non-family members are passengers, meaning that the teen drivers are easily distracted by having their friends as passengers, or drive faster, and are more likely to engage in reckless conduct than if a parent is riding along with them.
Teen Driving Laws in Massachusetts
Although an adult driver can legally drive in Massachusetts so long as their blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) is less than 0.08%, and/or they are not otherwise impaired, no driver under the age of 21 can drive with any percentage of alcohol.
Also, no teen driver or under the age of 18 can use a hand-held or hands-free cellphone at all. Those includes use of an earbud to listen for calls. Adults are barred from texting but may use hands-free devices and a single tap or swipe to activate a call.
The graduated licensing system for teen drivers includes:
Learner’s permit—at age 16, you can get a learner’s permit. Your parent or guardian who is at least 21-years old and been licensed at least one year must accompany you at all times. After 6-months and a record of supervised driving, you can take the road test and drive unaccompanied unless you are driving between midnight and 5:00 a.m. You may not have passengers who are under 18 unless a licensed adult accompanies you. If you violate any traffic laws, your learners permit is suspended and the 6-month period before you can apply for a license begins anew.
Junior license—once you obtain a junior license, you can drive unsupervised but with certain restrictions for the first 6-months including no driving between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 am. unless accompanied by a 21-year-old or older licensed driver. No minors may be passengers unless a 21-year-old licensed driver is with you and who sits in the front seat. At age 18, you can apply for a regular license without these restrictions, and may use a hands-held cell phone.
In the Canton rollover case cited above, the 17-year-old driver would not have possessed other than a junior license. It is not known from the newspaper reports if any of his passengers were over 21 and licensed as required by law since at least one passenger, the decedent, was under 18.
In any case, the decedent’s family would appear to have a valid wrongful death claim against the driver’s or vehicle’s insurer based on the negligence of the 17-year-old driver.
Damages in Teen Car Accidents and Deaths
Damages in a motor vehicle accident injury case depend upon the extent of the injuries, if the victim missed time from work, suffered a permanent injury, and the prognosis of his/her condition, among other factors. Damages may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Emotional distress
- Diminished quality of life
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
In a fatal accident, the damages are different, and may include:
- Medical expenses, if any, incurred before death
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of income to dependent family members
- Loss of the decedents’ counsel, guidance, love, and advice
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or deemed to be willful, or exhibited reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the plaintiff or victim
Damages must be proved in any personal injury or wrongful death claim and are often vigorously challenged by insurers and defense lawyers. An experienced car accident attorney will need to retain experts in forensic economics to calculate future wage loss for adult decedents as well as teens who had yet to enter the job market. Other experts in medical specialties are often needed in serious and fatal car accidents, and in matters where there are issues of liability.
Retain a Car Accident Attorney from Burns and Jain
A skilled car accident attorney is always essential if you want the most compensation for your injury claim. By retaining a car accident attorney from the law firm of Burns and Jain, you can be assured that your claim will be vigorously pursued and that all avenues of compensation examined. Call us at (617) 286-3594 for a free, in-depth discussion of your car accident injury or wrongful death claim.