Teen Drivers in Rhode Island: Making the Roads Safer for the Newly Licensed

photo_27694_20130907-300x200Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for Rhode Island teenagers aged 15-17 and the leading cause of fatality and injury for adolescents nationwide. Over the year’s vehicle safety has improved tremendously, but teenage drivers have not. In fact, the first year with a license is the most dangerous period in a driver’s life, according to AAA. The Providence personal injury lawyers at Tapalian Law focus on helping the victims of auto accident injuries and often the accidents resulting in fatalities or serious injury involve teenage drivers. We know from experience, and statistics show, that new teen drivers have a high likelihood of experiencing a crash or “close call” as newly licensed motor vehicle operators. Newly licensed teen drivers are also four times more likely to engage in risky road behaviors like sudden acceleration, abrupt braking, and hard turns.  Couple the impulsiveness and inexperience of adolescence with a near-constant need for technology, and a recipe for disaster is created for teen drivers in Providence, Rhode Island and beyond.

Lack of Judgement Common Culprit in Teen Crashes

Crash investigations commonly show the cause of teenage car crashes is not a lack of skill, but a lack of judgement. Responsible driving requires good judgement, a solid attention span, the ability to juggle and prioritize multiple functions, and shrewd decision-making skills. Biologically speaking, these are not yet a concrete part of the skillsets of most still-maturing teenagers. However, with gained experience teenage drivers can learn to be safer. As a RI accident injury lawyer, Attorney David Tapalian witnesses the huge impact distracted driving has on car accidents. Rhode Island law prohibits hand-held cell phone use while driving. The cell phone law is even more specific pertaining to new drivers under the age of 18.  In the Ocean State, vehicle operators under age 18 are banned from using any kind of wireless communication device while driving, including all handheld and hands-free cell phones and text messaging devices. Despite the illegality, motor vehicle lawyers know from first-hand knowledge, adults and teenagers alike still text and chat on a cell phone while driving, as mentioned in our Rhode Island Accident Lawyer Blog. According to a survey by AAA, almost 70% of teenage drivers admit to talking on a cell phone and over half admit to reading a text message while operating a vehicle in the past 30 days.  Almost all adolescent drivers admit to keeping their cell phone turned on while driving a car.

Distracted Driving Accidents in Rhode Island

Cell phones and technology are a huge distraction for adults and youth in everyday life and can be deadly when driving. Teenagers however, are less likely to avoid the impulse to pick up the phone when behind the wheel. Distracted driving accidents account for approximately 60% of teen car crashes. Distracted driving includes cell phone use, disruptions like eating, applying makeup, listening to loud music, and fellow passengers in the car. Adolescents, boys especially, are more likely to take risks and are more vulnerable to distractions with other teens in the car.  Operating a vehicle with friends in the car multiplies the risk of a teen car crash tremendously. The likelihood of a teen causing a collision increases 44% when a fellow adolescent (non-family member) accompanies them. The risk doubles with two friends and quadruples with three or more friends. This is definitely not a gamble we would be willing to take as RI car accident injury lawyers or parents.

Ways Parents Can Help RI Teens Be Safer Drivers

Traditional driver’s education courses for new Rhode Island teenage drivers are important. Parental involvement can also have a huge impact on the safety of teen drivers, specifically when parents assist in helping the teen gain everyday road experience. Experts agree, when it comes to teenage drivers this is one time where it is beneficial to be a helicopter parent! Parents can not be too vigilant when it comes to preventing a teenage car crash.

  • Be a role model. Don’t use a cell phone to text or talk when operating a vehicle or when supervising your teenage driver on the road. Obey traffic laws. It goes without saying, don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Gain experience. Help your teen become a more seasoned driver by being a passenger in the car with them at the wheel as often as possible. Drive with, and monitor, them under diverse conditions like rain and darkness. Snow and ice on the New England roads and highways offer a big learning curve to new drivers, so as much experience teens can gain with your supervision, the better.
  • Eliminate, or reduce, distractions. Turn off phone notifications on your teen’s phone and/or shut off the phone and put technology in a spot where it is not tempting to reach.
  • Adopt a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement that lays out strict rules related to distraction.
  • Prohibit your teen from riding with teen drivers or transporting other teens during the learning-to-drive process. One of the most dangerous sources of distraction for teen drivers is other teen passengers in the car. Rhode Island’s driver licensing rules allow no more than one non-family teen passenger under 21 for the first year of driving, unless supervised by an adult age 21 or older, sitting in the front seat, who has been licensed for at least five years.
  • If planning to purchase a vehicle for your newly licensed teenager, consider the recommendations provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the safest vehicles for new drivers.
  • Insist on strictly adhering to the Rhode Island Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) rules and consider following the GDL policies beyond age 18.

Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) Policy for New Rhode Island Drivers

Rhode Island is one of a number of states with a graduated drivers licensing policy (GDL). Graduated drivers licensing allows a new teen driver to gain experience by phasing in driving privileges prior to reaching a full privileged driver’s license.  During the process, they become more acclimated to operating a vehicle, varying road conditions, and safety rules. Phasing in driving privileges introduces new vehicle operators to the regular automobile population in a low-risk way that helps to protect others on the road, as well as themselves. A Rhode Island driver’s permit may be issued to a Rhode Island resident who is at least 16 years old, but less than 18 years old and has completed a certified driver education course and passed the DMV written test. The permit must be held for at least a period of six months during which time the driver may operate a vehicle only when accompanied by an adult aged 21 or older in the front seat with a valid driver’s license for at least five years.  Permit holders must complete 50 hours of supervised driving, with 10 hours completed at night. After passing a road test, a limited provisional license is issued with restrictions that the teen can drive unsupervised, except for between 1am and 5am. The driver may not drive with more than one passenger under the age of 21 for the first 12 months. A full operators license may be issued at age 17 and 6 months assuming the provisional license has been held for at least 12 months and no moving or seat belt violations have been issued in the past six months.

Experienced Car Accident Injury Lawyer for Teen Driver Crashes

If your teenager has been injured in a car accident in East Providence, a car crash in Cranston, or a vehicle collision in Pawtucket, the personal injury attorney’s at Tapalian Law are here to help. With offices conveniently located in Providence, RI and Seekonk, MA, our injury lawyers are easily accessible to clients hurt in car accidents, motorcycle crashes, and truck collisions, all over Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our experienced accident lawyers have helped countless injured clients recover compensation from a RI car accident or MA car accident. Call our experienced injury law firm today at


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