Los Angeles Unified School District high schools will be holding graduations throughout the San Fernando Valley in the next two weeks, which means thousands of new, young drivers will be spending time on the roads instead of the classroom.
Their inexperience, along with distractions, teenage bravado, speeding and — unfortunately — alcohol or drug consumption to perhaps celebrate the end of an era and the beginning of another combine for a deadly combination.
New teen drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash than other motorists, according to Auto Club Senior Vice President of Insurance Christopher Baggaley, citing a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.
Baggaley said research shows that in the past five years more than 1,600 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving drivers age 16-17 during what is dubbed the “100 deadliest days” on the road for teen drivers — the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“During this period, crashes involving teen drivers go up 15 percent compared to the rest of the year,” said Baggaley during a recent press conference at Granada Hills Charter High School.
In Los Angeles county alone in 2015 (the last year for figures), 13 teen drivers, ages 16-17, were at fault in fatal crashes while another 800 were at fault in injury crashes, according to the California Highway Patrol.
“Teen crashes spike over the summer because [the kids] off the school and on the roads,” Baggaley said as he urged parents to set an example for new drivers by reminding them of the three factors most cited as reasons for these accidents:
— 1. Distraction. It includes talking or texting on cell phones, changing music or even talking to other passengers in the car;
— 2. Seat belts. In 2015, the last year for statistics, 60 percent of teens killed in auto crashes were not wearing them; and— 3. Speeding. It’s a factor in 30 percent of fatal accidents.
The deadly consequences of these behaviors were plain to see for the teens who were gathered around while adults talked during the press conference.
Behind them — flanked by horrific images of accidents involving teens — stood the wreckage of a car driven by a young woman involved in a fatal crash.
According to Detective Bill Bustos of the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Traffic Division, a woman in her 20s was driving back to the Valley with two friends after celebrating and drinking at a park.
As she made her way near Universal City, on a very narrow, curvy road, she was speeding and tried to pass a slower automobile in front of her.
“She lost control and was involved in a head-on collision with a car coming the opposite direction,” said Bustos, who worked the investigation. “That vehicle struck another automobile.”
In the end, the driver of the first vehicle lost her life and her two friends were seriously injured in an accident Bustos said “was 100 percent preventable.”
Bustos also had some advice for the adults. “If you’re going to celebrate, do so responsibly,” he reminded them. “If you’re going to drink, designate a driver, arrange for a pick up or use public transportation.” “If you’re going to drink, designate a driver, arrange for a pick up or use public transportation.”
The financial ramifications of a car crash involving teens are another consideration.
Auto insurance for teens is typically more expensive than for older drivers, and the cars may be under their parents’ names.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones noted that one crash involving bodily injury can raise insurance premiums — on average — 76 percent for a young woman and 78 percent for a young man in Los Angeles county.
“The automobile in the hands of a distracted driver is a killing machine,” Jones said. “Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.”
Peter Meza, an associate insurance compliance officer, said a parent is legally responsible for a driver under 21.
Which means that if your teen son or daughter gets into an accident, and the car is under your name, the one paying for any repairs and/or litigation will be you.
Some Accidents Are Inevitable
Even if you’re a cautious, responsible and safe teenage driver, there’s no guarantee that accidents won’t occur.
Last August, in the midst of the “100 deadliest days” for teen drivers, Mohib Jafri found out firsthand the dangers of distracted driving.
He was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended by a young woman who swerved towards them as they were making a right turn at a four-way stop.
“She was putting makeup while she was driving,” said Jafri, 17, a student at Granada Hills Charter High School who is about to graduate.
He had gotten his driver’s license three weeks before, and the crash left him in shock for a while.
“I gave driving a little break after that,” he said.
Jafri said he’s been driving for nearly a year now, and tries to minimize distractions as much as he can.
“Texting and driving, I don’t do that,” he emphasized. “I’m not changing songs or changing the volume. My friends and I make playlists before we start driving.”
But he admits that distractions are unavoidable, and so are crashes.
“The truth is, you can be doing absolutely nothing wrong but you can never be sure about the other drivers,” Jafri said.