According to a new report, Florida ranks among the worst states for highway safety.
The annual report from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety listed Florida as one of 10 states with a "red rating" due to a "lack of basic safety laws." Florida was the only state on the East Coast to receive the organization's lowest rating.
Several of the report's criticisms focused on Florida's Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws; that is, the laws governing teen driving. Florida's GDL laws did not meet the advocacy group's criteria in four key areas: the minimum age required for a learner's permit, nighttime driving restriction, passenger restriction and cell phone restriction.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Target GDL Laws, Texting Ban
The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety were also critical of Florida's driver text messaging restriction. Although texting while driving is illegal in Florida, the law is limited to secondary enforcement; that is, drivers can only be ticketed for the offense if they have already been pulled over on suspicion of a different offense. The report only gives credit for primary enforcement laws.
Rounding out the report's list of missing safety laws: a primary enforcement seat belt law for passengers in the rear of the vehicle, a booster seat law through age seven, an all-rider motorcycle helmet law and an ignition interlock law for all drunk driving offenders.
The High Cost of Car Crashes in Florida
The report noted that auto accidents in Florida represent a significant cost to the state. There were 2,494 fatalities reported in 2014, bringing the 10-year total to 27,837. The annual economic cost of motor vehicle crashes totals $10.75 billion.
Currently, Florida's GDL laws allow teenagers to apply for a learner's permit beginning at age 15 - one year earlier than the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recommend. Each teen must pass a Driver's Education course, whether in person or online, and provide proof of identity, a valid Social Security Number and proof of residence in Florida as well as parental consent.
For three months, the holder of a learner's permit is only allowed to drive during daylight hours; after three months, that curfew is extended to 10 PM.
In order to get a provisional license, Florida law requires that the driver be at least 16 years old and have held a learner's permit for at least one year without incident. After the driver passes a road test, the DHSMV will issue a provisional license.
Florida state law allows 16-year-old drivers to drive unsupervised between 6 AM and 11 PM; 17-year-old drivers may drive unsupervised between 5 AM and 1 AM. Those restrictions are lifted if the young driver is supervised by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old, or when driving to or from work.
Some states restrict the number of passengers under age 21 who can ride in the car with a teenage driver on a provisional license, as the report recommends. Florida does not. Florida also does not have any restrictions on cell phone use by teenage drivers other than the secondary enforcement texting ban that applies to all drivers.
Teens at High Risk of Causing Accidents
Teenage drivers are among the most at risk of being involved in accidents causing death or injury, both in Florida and nationwide. As the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety note, the rate of fatal crashes per mile traveled is nearly twice as high for 16- and 17-year-old drivers as for 18- and 19-year-old drivers - and even higher in comparison to the national average for all drivers.
From a legal perspective, accidents involving young drivers are often quite complex, with several parties potentially liable for damages in a personal injury or wrongful death suit.
In any personal injury case, the key to securing compensation is to prove that an injury or fatality was caused by negligence; that is, failure to exercise care toward others which a reasonable and prudent person would do, or taking action which a reasonable person would not. In a case involving a teenage driver, there are several avenues we could pursue to prove negligence.
First, attorney Scott Miller might try to prove negligence on the part of the teenage driver. For instance, the driver may have been engaging in risky behaviors like tailgating or drag racing, failing to pay attention to the road while texting or talking to a passenger, or driving late at night in violation of state law.
Another option is to prove negligence on the part of a parent or guardian. For instance, a parent may have failed to adequately supervise a teenage driver, allowed the teenage driver to leave home after curfew, or signed off on the 50 required hours of driving time without actually completing all 50 hours.
If the accident involved alcohol, we will pursue a case of negligence on the part of the supplier of alcohol. Anyone who illegally supplies a minor with alcohol can be held liable if that minor goes on to cause an accident while intoxicated. We might pursue damages from someone who knowingly provided an underage driver with alcohol or who failed to check for ID.
In cases involving underage drinking, the legal principle of respondeat superior may allow us to sue a business for damages in addition to a negligent individual. For example, if a bartender or liquor store employee negligently supplies a minor with alcohol while on the job, we can hold the bar or liquor store liable for that action.
Finally, there is a legal concept called negligent entrustment of vehicle. Essentially, the owner of a vehicle can be held liable for entrusting his or her vehicle to someone who is unfit to drive. We might have a negligent entrustment case if the owner allowed a teenager access to the vehicle at an unreasonably late hour, allowed the holder of a learner's permit to drive the vehicle unsupervised or entrusted the vehicle to a teenager who was intoxicated.
If you've suffered injury in an accident and it wasn't your fault or a loved one was injured or died in an accident, contact personal injury attorney Scott M. Miller today to schedule a free consultation.