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New Drivers and the Rules of the Road: Keeping Your Teen Safe This Summer

Summer is almost upon us, which means your teen will be on break. Whether commuting to and from a summer job or spending time with their friends, your teen is sure to want to get some time behind the wheel. Finding the balance between trusting your teen behind the wheel and preventing an accident has given parent sleepless nights for ages.

In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with those between 16 and 19 facing three times the risk of a fatal crash than those above age 20. While it might be tempting to make your new driver ride their bicycle until they are 30, you can help keep them safe this summer with some of the following tips, but first, let’s look at Washington’s laws for teen drivers.

Intermediate License Restrictions for New Drivers in Washington

New drivers under age 18 receive an intermediate license when they pass their drivers’ test. An immediate license automatically turns to a regular license once a driver turns 18, but until that occurs, an intermediate license holder must follow these traffic laws:

Driving With Passengers

For the first six months, your teen cannot have any passengers under age 20 unless they are immediate family members, such as siblings. This means that if your teen recently got their license, they cannot spend summer nights cruising around with friends in the car, or they face penalties. After the first six months of an intermediate license, your teen may have passengers under age 20 who aren’t family members as long as there are no more than three. Passengers cause distractions, so you might want to enforce your own driving rule to extend the no passenger rule or only allow one or two friends in the car with your teen driver.

Driving at Night

Driving when it’s dark is dangerous for adults, let alone new drivers who don’t have the experience to react to fatigued drivers and drunk drivers who might be on the road when it’s late. Under Washington law, your teen cannot drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless they have a licensed driver over age 25 in the car. The law does make exceptions for teen drivers who are transporting farm products or supplies for agricultural purposes.

Cell Phone Use

Adult drivers in Washington can use a cell phone when operating a vehicle as long as it is hands-free. Washington law strictly prohibits cell phone and other wireless device use while driving for those under age 18. This means your teen cannot talk or text on their phone and may only use their phone to call 911 for an emergency.

If your teen doesn’t abide by the previous license restrictions, and law enforcement catches them in the act, you can expect a warning letter home for the first offense. A second offense will result in a six month suspension, and a third offense will result in a mandatory suspension until age 18.

Tips to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe

New drivers don’t have the experience behind the wheel or the reflexes to always have the correct reactions and make the right decisions when driving. Keeping your new teen driver safe requires reinforcing the legal rules of the road and instilling other good driving habits. The Washington State Department of Licensing offers a safe driving agreement between parents and their teens. This contract helps support and build good driving habits and includes the following:

Obey all traffic laws and don’t speed. According to the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) speed is a factor in about a third of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Even if your teen is driving the speed limit, he or she still might be traveling too fast for conditions. Make sure you remind your teen to slow down in rain, ice, snow, and heavy traffic.

Don’t drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to the CDC, 20 percent of male drivers between 15 and 20 who were involved in traffic accidents are under the influence of alcohol. Washington, like many other states, has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinkers. If your teen has any alcohol related incident, they will lose their license until they are 18.

Offer a no judgment ride policy to your teen. Your teen should never ride with another new driver with whom they are not comfortable, especially if alcohol is involved. Offer your teen a ride at any hour so they don’t get into a car with a drunk driver or get behind the wheel after drinking themselves.

Know your teen’s driving plans. Have your teen call if they are going to be late and not drive after 10 p.m., as well as discussing where they are driving before they leave the house.

Use seat belts. Not only is it illegal to not wear a seat belt, but it is dangerous. Remind your teen that if they have an accident without their seat belt, it’s more likely to sustain a serious injury. Drivers should also ensure everyone in the vehicle is wearing their seat belt.

Avoid distractions. Although cell phone usage is banned, new drivers need to avoid other distractions, such as eating in the car, adjusting the radio, personal grooming, and putting on makeup. Almost half of Seattle accidents involving teens in 2017 were caused by cars going out of their lane or running off of the side of the road, often a result of inattentive driving.

Get Legal Help From Boohoff Law if Someone Injures Your Teen in an Accident

Even when your teen is obeying all the traffic laws, complying with restrictions, and overall driving safely, they can still get in an accident because of another motorist. In the event that an accident occurs, make sure your teen seeks medical attention as soon as possible. Then, enlist the help of Boohoff Law to learn about how we can help you recover damages after your teen gets in a car accident. If you are in the Seattle area, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Boohoff Law online or call at (877) 999-9999 to schedule a free consultation.