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Discussing safe driving with your teen: Tips for Missouri parents

January 20, 2015

shadows-1396842-m.jpgResearch shows that parents can be the most important influence on a teen's driving behaviors. Our firm frequently supports Missouri safety campaigns and initiatives that target teens: they are, after all, one of the groups most at risk for auto accidents (distracted driving accidents in particular). If you're the parent of a new driver, and you're looking for a helpful safety resource, we recommend the AAA Foundation for Safety's website, Keys2Drive, which provides useful information for both teen drivers and their parents. Importantly, the website emphasizes the importance of being proactive and starting a dialogue with teens, encouraging parents to build a strong foundation by discussing defensive driving even before their children are ready to get behind the wheel.

AAA Keys2Drive: Tips for parents in the "Learning to Drive" process:

• Evaluate your teen's readiness. If, as a parent, you have concerns about your teen being responsible or following rules, those are issues to address before adding an automobile to the mix. It's likely that these issues will affect your teen's driving behaviors as well.

• Get informed. It's important that you're knowledgeable about the licensing process and current Missouri traffic laws, so your teen recognizes you as a voice of authority about driving. You want to make sure that your information is current: as AAA points out, it's probable that a great deal has changed since you got your driver's license. (As an added benefit, AAA offers the "Dare to Prepare" program, an online workshop, via their website.)

• Start talking. As an experienced driver, AAA encourages you to share your "road wisdom" with your teen sooner rather than later. Also, there are important issues that you'll want to make clear early on: What does it mean to be a safe driver? When exactly will your teen start driving? Will your teen be responsible for gas costs or insurance fees? What specific rules should you put in place?

• Focus on passenger safety. Make sure your teen knows that wearing a seat belt is not optional - for drivers or passengers. Also, discuss who your teen will be riding with, and what behavior is appropriate for passengers. The more teenagers in the car, the higher the risk of a crash.

• Be involved. Talk about what you're seeing or doing when you're driving. Make it a regular conversation, and when your teen starts driving, keep that conversation going. In Missouri, only 40 hours of supervised driving are required, but AAA recommends at least 100 (and they offer tips and strategies for supervised driving sessions).

• Be a good role model. Mimic the behaviors that you expect from your teen. If you frequently speed, or follow too closely, or send text messages while driving, you're sending a message to your teen that these behaviors are acceptable.

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Teen drivers overrepresented in Missouri car accident injury statistics

October 3, 2014

file8491302385851.jpgCar accidents are the leading cause of death for young Americans between age 16 and 20, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2012, 2,055 teen drivers were involved in fatal accidents nationwide, and 855 of those drivers were killed. Here in Missouri, 136 people were killed and over 12,800 were injured in crashes involving teen drivers, according to the Highway Patrol.

Experts say teens are more likely to be involved in injury accidents because of several behaviors that are common in young drivers, including inexperience combined with speed; distracted driving (involving cell phone use, passengers, etc.); inexperience combined with nighttime driving; and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What can parents do to keep their teens safe on Missouri roads? Insisting on seat belt use is a basic - yet essential - place to start. "Nearly eight out of ten teens killed in Missouri vehicle crashes over the last three years weren't buckled up," Leanna Depue, chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's executive committee, told the Missouri Department of Transportation. Teens were also involved in almost 20 percent of fatal and serious injury crashes statewide over the last three years.

National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 19 -25) is approaching.. In that spirit, our car accident lawyers would like to share a few tips to help parents promote safe, responsible driving.

Encouraging safety: Tips for parents of teen drivers

• Be clear and firm about your expectations. Make sure your teen drivers understand what the rules are - and what consequences they face, should those rules be broken. Also, take some time to explain why those rules are in place. Many parents find a teen driving contract is a useful tool, as it gives you the opportunity to actually spell out the rules in writing. A teen driving contract can establish clear boundaries related to seat belts, cell phone use, curfew, passengers and alcohol or drug use.

• Be responsive and respectful. When you discuss safe driving with your teen, make sure he or she understand that "safe" is the operative word. Teens are more likely to honor boundaries when they understand you're trying to keep them safe, not control them. Also, remember to listen when your teens have questions. If you want them to take your concerns seriously, extend them the same courtesy.

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Eight "danger zones" create make teen drivers more likely to crash, pediatrician says

78225_driving.jpgEach year, car accidents account for one out of every three teen fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that novice drivers (from age 16 to 19) are four times more likely to crash than older drivers. Pediatrician Dr. Rima Himelstein examined the key factors that contribute to teen crashes, and found several common denominators - what she termed the "eight danger zones of teen driving."

1. Driver inexperience

Simple lack of experience is a contributing factor in numerous accidents involving teen drivers. Because they've spent less time behind the wheel, teens are less prepared to deal with the numerous unexpected situations that can present themselves on the road. Since crash risks are especially high during a teen's first year of driving, safety advocates recommend that teen drivers receive extensive supervised practice during that time. Teens need to gain experience driving at different times of day, in different kinds of weather, on different kinds of roads.

2. Driving with teen passengers

Research has shown that passengers can be an particularly dangerous distraction for teen drivers, especially when those passengers are also teens. A study conducted by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of a fatal crash increases by 44% when a 16 or 17 year-old has just one teen passenger. With two teen passengers, the risk is doubled; with three or more, the risk is quadrupled. Missouri's graduated driver license (GDL) law places restrictions on the amount of passengers a teen driver can carry, but safety advocates urge parents to establish rules that reinforce those restrictions.

3. Driving after dark

Nighttime driving comes with its own set of challenges. In 2009, 61% of teen traffic fatalities occurred between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Furthermore, a 2010 study from the Texas Transportation Institute found that "it is the nighttime risk that ranks at the top of the list for the youngest motorists on the road, primarily due to a combination of the visibility challenges caused by dark conditions, slower response time brought about by fatigue, and a lack of experience driving under such conditions." Here again, GDL laws restrict nighttime driving in novice drivers, but parents will want to monitor their teens and ensure they receive ample supervised practice.

4. Driving without seatbelts

While teen seatbelt use has increased significantly in recent years, teens are still much less likely to buckle up than older drivers are. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "in 2009 the majority (56%) of young people 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled."

5. Driving while distracted

In today's world, distracted driving is the number one killer of American teenagers. In the CDC's 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 1 out of 3 teen drivers admitted to sending a text or email while driving within the past month. Missouri law prohibits texting in drivers 21 and younger, but parents should establish a zero tolerance policy at home. In addition, parents are urged to set an example for their teens and refrain from using their phones while driving.

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"Life on Track" event aims to discourage drunk, distracted driving among Missouri teens

October 14, 2013

cone-659634-m.jpgLaw enforcement officials, safety experts and researchers agree: young drivers have an extremely high risk of being involved in serious car accidents, both here in Missouri and throughout the U.S. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American adolescents, and most accidents involving teen drivers occur because of "critical errors." Two factors that commonly contribute to these accidents are driver impairment and driver distraction. In recent surveys conducted by safety and wellness organizations, 24% of teen passengers admitted they "recently [rode] with a teen driver who had been drinking," and about one-third of teen drivers "[self-reported] texting or emailing while driving (in the prior month)."

Recently, a Branson business hosted an event designed to help teens understand the serious dangers associated with driving while distracted or impaired. From September 30 through October 3, the Track Family Fun Parks held its fourth annual "Life on Track" workshop, where teen drivers were invited to participate in a DUI simulation and a distracted driving exercise while operating Go-Karts. This year, about 400 local teens participated in the event, including junior high and high school students from Branson, Hollister, Forsyth, Reeds Spring and Taneyville.

"An important aspect of our company mission is to give back to our community and take an active role in enriching the lives of families," said Craig Wescott, President and co-owner of the Track Family Fun Parks, in a news release. "With our facilities and resources, we have the unique opportunity to offer a safe environment where our community's youth can learn some very important lessons. Our goal is that every student participating in the Life on Track program will realize what a bad idea distracted and/or drunk driving is for themselves and those around them."

At the event, participants attempted to navigate a Go-Kart track while wearing thick goggles, which were designed to mimic the blurred vision that drunk drivers often experience. In addition, organizers created an obstacle course and asked students to attempt sending a text message while navigating through the course. Following the exercises, local law enforcement officials showed safety videos and addressed the teens about these all-too-common roadway risks. "They get here and they have the fun, riding the go-carts, cheering each other on, seeing the activities here. Then afterwards we get into the more serious eye opener," said Officer Darold Donathan of the Branson Police Department. "They're learning how to text and they're doing it every day. They're doing it all day long, possibly. And then they're getting their driver's license."

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Fatigue and inexperience a dangerous combination for Missouri teen drivers

blurryroad.jpgAs Springfield personal injury lawyers, we know that teen drivers are at an increased risk for car accidents. Teens are especially likely to cause crashes because they're inexperienced and therefore prone to misjudging roadway situations and responding to them poorly. When this inexperience is combined with other risk factors, a teen's crash risk skyrockets.

Recently, a Pennsylvania teenager was trapped in her SUV for nearly 18 hours after the vehicle crossed a roadway center line, struck a utility pole, flew around 20 feet and overturned onto its roof in a culvert. According to the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, 18 year-old Brooke Spence was pinned in the vehicle from Saturday night until Sunday evening. Her SUV, camouflaged by underbrush in the culvert, went unnoticed until a neighbor, preparing to barbeque on his deck, noticed something glinting in the underbrush near his property. He went to investigate. "I was looking down in the driver's side window, and I saw something move," said Brad Shearer. "She was lying on her back and [moved her head]. Then I could see her face. I went, 'Oh my God, she's alive. There's someone in there.'"

Shearer called 911 - Spence had lost her phone in the crash and had been unable to call for help. She is reportedly in fair condition at a nearby hospital, although police declined to comment on the exact nature of her injuries. Authorities do not believe any of the usual factors - speeding, drinking and texting - played a role in the crash; rather, they suspect Spence may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Police Corporal Douglas Ober told the Intelligencer Journal that Spence had a "very busy day" leading up to the accident. "It is still my belief that inattentive driving was a contributing factor in this crash," Cpl. Ober said. "My investigation has found absolutely no indications that she was involved in any illegal acts prior to the crash and do not suspect texting was a factor as well."

Teen drivers and fatigue: Facts and statistics

• Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens. Over half of serious crashes involving teen drivers can be linked to three critical driving errors: (1) lack of scanning to detect/react to roadway situations; (2) traveling too fast for road conditions (particularly when navigating curves and turns); and (3) inattentiveness.

• Fatigue affects driving performance in a way that's similar to alcohol use: it impairs a driver's reaction time, attention span and motor skills. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that being awake for an 18 hour time period is like having a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, which is legally intoxicated. Since teenagers also lack driving experience, a fatigued teen has an extremely high risk of causing a crash.

• According to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the majority of car accidents linked to fatigue are caused by young drivers under age 25. Teen drivers who get less than eight hours of sleep per night are one-third more likely to cause an accident than those who get a full night's rest.

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Teen driver fatalities increase in early 2012: What can parents do to help?

1105860_my_keys_2.jpgDuring the first six months of 2012, car accident fatalities increased by 19% among 16 and 17 year-old drivers, according to a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA). As Springfield personal injury lawyers, we know that teens are already an at-risk age group when it comes to serious crashes, so the 2012 data is worrisome, to say the least. However, there's good news: research indicates that parental involvement has a significant impact on a young driver's behavior behind the wheel. "Parents play a key role in preventing teen crashes," says Erin Sauber-Schatz, Senior Researcher for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "When asked whose opinions they listen to, teens most often said their parents."

Consider the following statistics, compiled by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia:

• Teen drivers are half as likely to crash and twice as likely to wear their seat belts when their parents "set rules and pay attention to their activities in a helpful, supportive way." These drivers are also 70% less likely to drink and drive and 30% less likely to use a cell phone while driving.

• Conversely, teens who report having "easy access to the keys" are more than twice as likely to crash, compared to young drivers who share vehicles.

So, what are some specific actions parents can take to safeguard their young drivers? Here are a few basic steps to help you stay involved with your teens' driving education and reduce their accident risks.

Be a hands-on driving teacher. Under Missouri's Graduated Driver License Law, drivers must receive 40 hours of supervised instruction (including 10 hours of nighttime driving) to graduate from an Instruction Permit to an Intermediate License. Use the opportunity to help your teen build experience by practicing on different kinds of roads, at different times of day, and in different weather and traffic conditions.

Know what your teen is doing. Always ask where they're going, who they're going with, and when they'll be home - and hold them to their word! Teen drivers are more likely to take risks on the road when they're not being held accountable for their whereabouts and actions.

Develop a parent-teen driving agreement that's right for your family. Establish clear ground rules so your teen understands your expectations and the consequences of breaking the rules. (Click here to view a sample contract.)

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Texting and Driving Increases Already High Crash Risks for Teens During Summer Months

On June 7, the Centers for Disease Control released the findings of the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is conducted in high schools across the U.S. every two years. The survey asks students about behaviors that have proven to pose health risks to teens, and for the first time ever, the YRBS included questions about distracted driving. The findings? Despite many prevalent distracted driving campaigns specifically aimed at teens, about 1 out of 3 teen drivers admitted to texting and driving within the past 30 days.

1308588_motorway_at_twilight.jpgThe YRBS results were released just days after a Massachusetts teenager received a prison sentence for causing a fatal accident while texting. Following a trial, 18 year-old Aaron Deveau was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but after considering Deveau's age and clean criminal record, the judge suspended a portion of the jail time. Deveau will serve a year of his sentence.

Teens are less experienced than older drivers, and more likely to take risks: there's no question that distraction compounds these existing crash risk factors. What's more, at this time of year, the threat is even greater. Statistically, the period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known as the "100 Deadliest Days" of the year for teen drivers, because the daily number of teen crash deaths increases significantly during the summer months. offers these tips to help keep your teen driver safe during the summer and throughout the year:

• Start talking with your teen drivers about the importance of safety. Discuss the risks and responsibilities of driving, and help them understand what's at stake when they're behind the wheel.

• Set ground rules regarding the number of passengers they may carry (and what drivers they can ride with). While driver distraction is more commonly associated with cell phone use, passengers can also be dangerously distracting, especially for teen drivers.

• Limit the time your teen driver can spend behind the wheel during the evening hours. It is most important to limit the number of passengers during these nighttime hours as well.

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Freak Accident Causes Car's Gas Tank to Explode, Killing 3 Teens

868517_a_driver.jpgOn Thursday in Melbourne, Australia, a freak car accident caused a vehicle to burst into flames instantaneously, leaving 3 teenagers dead and investigators working to determine how and why such a thing occurred.

Witnesses reported seeing a Mercedes-Benz sedan fishtailing as it pulled off of a side street and onto Westgarth Road in Melbourne's inner north. Moments later, the vehicle ran off the road, struck a parked car, slammed into a tree, and wound up wedged in between a utility pole and a brick wall. The occupants were trapped inside.

The accident brought down several power lines, and also caused the Mercedes' gas tank to rupture and then ignite only moments later. Initially, police believed that the power lines had started the blaze, but they later determined that the fire was likely caused by engine heat or a spark from the car's battery. Within seconds, the occupants were incinerated.

It may be weeks before the victims are formally identified: the bodies were so badly burned that police will have to use dental records and DNA to make a definitive identification. However, they believe they know who the victims are: three young men, the 19 year-old driver and 2 friends, both age 18. In fact, the fire was so severe that police initially feared there was a 4th victim. It took a full day for them to confirm that there were only 3 people in the vehicle.

According to media reports, the driver was speeding at the time of the crash, but not excessively. Police continue to investigate what caused the Mercedes to fishtail, since that fishtailing was the catalyst for the accident. They will attempt to determine if the driver intentionally caused his tires to spin, or if he swerved to avoid an obstacle in the roadway and then lost traction in the rainy conditions. Police have already ruled out alcohol as a possible contributing factor.

Especially at this time of year, teen roadway safety is of paramount importance. Studies have shown that the coming summer months are the 100 deadliest days of the year for teen drivers. 9 of the 10 deadliest days for teens on our roadways are during the months of May through August, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Parents are urged to speak with their teen drivers about the responsibility of safe driving and the consequences of making poor decisions behind the wheel.

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Save-A-Life Tour Visits Springfield, Missouri High Schools, Promotes Teen Awareness of Distracted Driving Risks

February 15, 2012

1104507_mobile_phone.jpgOur Springfield, Missouri car accident attorneys are always happy to hear about initiatives that aim to curb distracted driving, especially in teen drivers. We applaud the Springfield Council of Parent Teacher Associations (SCPTA) for sponsoring the Save-A-Life tour, which visited two local high schools this week: students from Central and Hillcrest participated in activities to promote awareness about the dangers of texting and driving.

Save-A-Life is well-known for its national high-impact alcohol awareness program: its drunk driving simulators have been widely praised for their ability to provide a sober perspective on the effects of alcohol on the mind. Last year, with support from the Missouri Eye Institute, the SCPTA brought the tour to Parkview and Glendale: students and faculty alike reported that the drunk driving presentations were hugely affecting. "They bring people to talk who really know what they're talking about," said Dawn Thompson, SCPTA president.

This is the first year the tour has offered presentations and simulation activities that address distracted driving, and Thompson said the SCPTA felt that it was a timely, relevant subject to discuss with students. "Since a lot more accidents are happening now with distracted driving, we thought this was the way to go. It affects more kids. It seems everybody has a cell phone now," Thompson said.

And she couldn't be more right. Here are just a few of the staggering statistics that reflect trends in teen driving behaviors:

• Teen drivers are significantly more likely to be involved in a fatal car accident caused by distracted than any other age group. (NHTSA)
• 40% of American teens say they have been passengers when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger. (Pew)
• 3 out of 4 teens say they own cell phones. (National Teen Driver Survey)
• 48% of teens say they talk on a cell phone, at least sometimes, while driving. (National Teen Driver Survey)

Save-A-Life's distracted driving program uses a combination of personal accounts, videos, and distracted driving simulation to present its message. Students at both high schools saw photographs of car accident damage. They also heard from the friends and family members of people who were injured or killed because of texting and driving. Then, juniors and seniors used the texting and driving simulator, which was equipped with a steering wheel, an iPod touch (which received frequent text messages), and a large screen to simulate the roadway and traffic.

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Two Teen Drivers Killed in Missouri Last Weekend in Separate Lane Departure Accidents

February 6, 2012

${filename}.jpgIt only takes a fraction of a second for a driver to make a mistake and cause a serious accident. Our Springfield, Missouri car accident attorneys know that teenage drivers are an especially at-risk group: motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for American teens. In 2009, these accidents claimed the lives of 8 teenagers every single day. We frequently blog about various initiatives that promote responsible driving practices in young drivers, and we encourage parents to utilize these programs and the resources they provide. Doing so could make all the difference in the world.

(For links to teen driving resources, see the end of this post.)

Two Teen Drivers Killed in Separate Missouri Accidents Within 2 Days
Over the weekend, two teen drivers were killed in separate accidents in southern Missouri. The first accident happened on Friday in Howell County, near Mountain View. 16 year-old Christina McBride was traveling on County Road 3890 when she ran off the west side of the road. Her pickup truck overturned and struck a fence, ejecting one of her passengers. McBride was killed, and her passenger, 14 year-old Michael Richison, sustained serious injuries: he was taken to Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains, and subsequently transferred to Mercy Hospital in Springfield. Another passenger, 17 year-old Lindy McBride, is also listed in serious condition at Mercy.

It's not clear what circumstances caused McBride to lose control of her vehicle and leave the roadway, but her pickup was the only vehicle involved in the accident. None of the three teens wore a seatbelt. According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, this accident was Troop G's 7th fatality in 2012, compared to 4 fatalities at this time last year.

Then, on Saturday, another young driver died in Greene County, just north of Willard. The driver, 16 year-old Carlos Lopez, was driving on Missouri Highway 123 when his Pontiac Sunfire crossed the center line and struck a Dodge pickup head on. Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene, and his passenger, 44 year-old Darla Goetz, was transported to Mercy with serious injuries. The occupants of the pickup truck survived the accident, but both were hospitalized: the driver suffered minor injuries, and a passenger was moderately injured.

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