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Ultimate Guide for Teen Driving Safety in California

Getting a learner’s permit or driver’s license is a part of growing up. Most teens look forward to the day they can steer their own destinies on California freeways and boulevards. But before they can get their driver’s license and venture out on their own, they must learn the many lessons of the road.

A strong foundation in traffic safety knowledge will benefit young drivers and hopefully, keep them safe until they can get some real-life experiences on the road.

Maison Law compiled this ultimate guide for teen driving safety to give young drivers and their parents an easy checklist of some of the things they’ll need to know before embarking on this new adventure.

Starting Down the Road to Earning a California Instruction Permit

California makes certain that new drivers are well aware of the dangers they’ll face before they ever get to hold a learner’s permit. The California DMV requires teens to complete several important steps before they are able to drive with their parents and eventually alone.

Teens anxious to log some practice miles will first need to secure an instruction permit. Teens must be at least 15 ½ years old but under 18 to get an instruction permit.

Here are the steps teens will take to secure a California instruction permit:

Hopeful drivers will pay an application fee during their DMV office visit. They’ll get a fingerprint scan and take a vision exam. A photograph will be taken. Proof of car insurance will be required.

Teens will take a knowledge test. This test can be taken online before the DMV visit. Failing the knowledge test will mean teens must wait seven days to take it again.

What Can My Teen Do with an Instruction Permit?

There may be a no more hazardous time in a teen’s driving adventure than when those first miles are rolled out. Practice will be key, but the California DMV wants to make sure that new drivers don’t face this new experience alone.

Teens with instruction permits cannot drive alone at any time. They are allowed to practice driving with an adult in the passenger’s seat. The adult must be close enough to be able to take control of the vehicle if necessary.

The adult must be someone who is at least 25 years old. The person is often a parent or guardian or a driving instructor. This requirement of a co-pilot should never be ignored. New drivers benefit the most from having an experienced voice in their ears, showing them the hazards to watch out for.

When Can My Teen Get a California Provisional Driver’s License?

A minor (under the age of 18) will need to have an instruction permit for at least 6 months before applying for a provisional (minor’s) driver’s license.

Applicants must be at least 16 years old and have at least 50 hours of practice driving completed. Ten of those hours will have to have been at night. Teens need to have completed driver education and driver training and all knowledge tests required. They will also be subjected to a behind-the-wheel driving test.

Restrictions on California Drivers Under 18

Once teens have a provisional driver’s license in hand they get a little freedom.

There are specific things teens with a provisional driver’s license can and can’t do:

  • They may drive alone as long as they remain free of collisions or traffic violations.
  • During the first year, teens may not drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • They cannot transport passengers under 20 years old unless accompanied by a California-licensed parent or guardian, a California-licensed driver 25 years old or older, or a licensed or certified driving instructor.

There are exceptions to some of these rules covered in the California Driver Handbook.

When drivers turn 18 the “provisional” restrictions on their driver’s licenses are lifted. However, traffic accidents and violations can result in license suspension.

Safe Driving Musts for California’s Teen Drivers

By now every teen should be well acquainted with some of the most basic safe driving bullet points. Yet, teens are at the most risk for accidents because they sometimes forget what they’ve learned and make poor decisions.

These are simple safety precautions that can reduce accident risks and keep teens safer when they are in unfortunate collisions:

  • Don’t speed.
  • Wear a seatbelt.
  • Use turn signals.
  • Come to a complete stop at stop signs.
  • Say No to Distracted Driving. Teens shouldn’t eat while driving or check their hair in the mirror. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that a glance away from the road while traveling at just 55 miles per hour is like driving blind for the length of a football field.
  • Never drink alcohol or take a drug and get behind the wheel. Teens are prohibited from drinking alcohol and yet every year, underage drunk drivers cause devastating collisions.

Cell Phone Safety for Teen Drivers in California

The biggest distraction for any driver, especially teenagers, will be the screens on their cell phones. Cell phones can beep and chime when a new message or call arrives, but minors are legally prohibited from checking their phones.

If you are under 18 years old and driving, cellphone use is illegal, even when it’s in hands-free mode. Minors may not text or make calls while behind the wheel.

Minors may only use their cell phones to call certain emergency services. They can use their cell phones to call these and other emergency care providers:

  • Law enforcement.
  • A health care provider.
  • The fire department.

Maison Law has a complete page with more information on California’s cell phone laws.

Common Accident Dangers for Teenage California Motorists

The California DMV reports that teenagers as a group average twice as many collisions as adult drivers. And that’s while logging only half as many road miles. The teenage collision rate per mile is 4 times greater than the adult driver collision rate per mile.

One way teen drivers (and all drivers) can reduce their chances of getting into a collision is to be aware of the circumstances that present the most risk. There are certain spots and situations in every California city and county that lead to an increased chance for traffic incidents.

These are just some of the dangers teen drivers should be aware of:

  • Intersection Accidents: California intersections can be extremely busy. Drivers have traffic to watch coming from many different directions. Teens will need to get practice following all the laws that govern stop sign intersections and traffic light intersections. They must also monitor and avoid other drivers who don’t follow the right-of-way.
  • Vehicles Turning Left – Another intersection threat. Inexperienced drivers and well-seasoned drivers alike can get jumpy waiting on an opening in oncoming traffic. They can gun it to beat approaching drivers and start a left turn. Unfortunately, drivers can miss the smaller profiles of a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian in a crosswalk and run into a defenseless victim. Slow and wide left turns can leave drivers in the path of other vehicles for longer and carry a bigger risk of a T-bone collision.
  • Rearend Collisions – Young drivers must learn to keep their eyes on the road at all times. A glance down at the wrong moment can cause a driver to miss a traffic light ahead changing to red. They may miss cars in front of them slowing down for a traffic jam. A devastating rear-end collision can result.
  • Unsafe Lane Changes – Also a product of inattention. Teen motorists must learn to use their mirrors and check blind spots before any lane change. They should monitor vehicles traveling alongside them, even when they aren’t ready to switch lanes.
  • Road Rage and Aggressive Driving – Teen drivers must keep their cool in frustrating driving conditions like Los Angeles rush hour traffic or backups on Highway 99 in Fresno. Speeding and aggressively switching lanes are extremely dangerous maneuvers for young drivers. Teen drivers must also avoid reacting angrily to another driver’s careless mistakes. If another motorist tries to provoke other drivers or seeks a confrontation, teen drivers must be smart and not escalate tension. They should drive away as quickly and safely as possible and dial 911 if they feel threatened.

Defensive Driving for Teen Drivers in California

Defensive driving is a safe practice that reminds you to monitor your own driving and the driving of others. As a new driver, you can be as safe as possible and still be forced into an accident by a bad driver.

You’ll avoid many more collisions over your driving career when you learn to anticipate the careless maneuvers of other motorists.

Here are just a few of the many strategies that will leave you in a better position to steer clear of a crash:

  • Don’t tailgate. Most accidents are avoidable when drivers have enough time and room to react to an obstacle or a quick stop ahead.
  • Keep track of the cars around you. It’s a good idea to know where cars are in case a hazard forces you to swerve left or right. Keep an eye on your mirrors and blind spots and be ready if you must switch lanes quickly to escape a collision.
  • Stay out of a driver’s blind spot. Teens may do a good job monitoring their blind spots, but that doesn’t mean other motorists will be as attentive. Try not to remain in another driver’s blind spot if you can help it. Speed up slightly or slow down to stay out of the zone where a careless driver could steer into you.
  • Avoid stomping on your brakes. Always give yourself enough space from the traffic ahead so that you won’t have to slam the brakes if other drivers stop abruptly. You may stop in time to avoid a rear-end impact, but then you have to worry about the driver behind you having the same skill and awareness.
  • Practice the 3-Second Rule. This is a helpful guideline for teens for keeping 3 seconds of time between you and the car in front of you. It’s a good way to give yourself enough space to avoid most accidents. For more on this strategy, visit Maison Law’s page on how to count off the 3-second rule.

What Should a Teen Driver Do After a California Car Accident?

Teen drivers are in more accidents because they lack the experience of older drivers. But we all know that some adults never get much better at driving. They remain careless in the lanes and may even take reckless chances, endangering everyone else on the road.

Teens can make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they are at fault in every accident. Auto insurance companies will often try to place the blame on vulnerable teen drivers no matter what a collision report says. They hope to avoid having to pay fair compensation.

The health of the teen and other injured victims should be the first concern after a crash. But once a scene is secure, if teens are feeling strong enough, they should work to secure important pieces of evidence on the scene. This proof of what happened may save teen drivers and their parents from an unfair hike in auto insurance rates. It could also force the real at-fault driver to accept responsibility for an injured teenager’s recovery bills.

Teens should attempt to secure this evidence at the scene of an accident:

  • Call 911. Give a full report to the police or the California Highway Patrol. Teen drivers should note if they saw the at-fault driver on the phone or behaving recklessly. Investigators will include this information in a collision report.
  • Injured teens must get checked out by paramedics and take an ambulance to the emergency room if necessary.
  • Get contact information from witnesses. Witness testimony may prove that a teen driver wasn’t at fault.
  • Take cell phone pics. Show damage to the vehicles involved and any of your visible injuries. Also, capture evidence of the traffic signs and lights that were ignored if it’s relevant.
  • Trade information with the drivers involved if an investigating officer doesn’t provide it to you. Teens should never accept fault in an accident or talk about the seriousness of their injuries with the other drivers involved. These statements can be twisted by insurance adjusters to use as evidence to deny an injury claim.
  • Make an appointment with the family doctor. Get all injuries examined. The shock of an accident can conceal injuries until a teen wakes up the next morning experiencing new pain. Follow the doctor’s orders and see any specialists who are recommended to you. Injuries to still-developing bodies can be more serious than the same injury suffered by an adult. Injuries will require monitoring to make sure they don’t affect victims as they mature.
  • Hang on to the evidence. Teen motorists should keep all damaged personal property. Keep bloody and torn clothing.
  • Teen victims and their parents should discuss what happened with a skilled California Car Accident Lawyer. A free consultation is a no-risk way to determine how teen drivers can prove they weren’t at-fault in an accident and recover fair support to pay for their medical care. A local car accident attorney is of great help when the fault in an accident involving a teen isn’t clear. In these cases, car insurance providers usually try to shift the blame to the teen motorist if they can get away with it.

Frequently Asked Questions by Teen Drivers

After an accident, should I talk to an at-fault driver’s car insurance provider?

No. An insurance adjuster will be calling you after an accident. They’ll ask you to make a recorded statement. Refuse and only offer basic info. They hope you’ll say something they can twist to hurt your case later.

Is it okay to buy my new teen driver an older car?

Teens probably don’t need a brand-new car, but a car that’s too old may be lacking in the latest safety features. Research used cars that meet the highest safety standards. Avoid buying a teen a sports car.

What else can I teach my teens to keep them safe on road trips?

Beyond safe driving practices, your teens should know how to change a flat tire. They should also know how to check tire pressure, and oil levels, and how to perform other routine car maintenance.

A word to parents and teens about accidents involving young drivers…

Even the safest adult drivers can wind up in bad accidents that weren’t their fault. Teens are at the same risk. No amount of caution can keep them completely protected from the careless motorists that travel California roads each day.

If you or your child are in a serious accident, talk over your options with a skilled California Car Accident Lawyer at Maison Law. Insurance companies can treat teen drivers unfairly and try to blame them for accidents they didn’t cause. Car insurance adjusters can also leave injured teenagers the support they need to recover and get back on their feet.

Contact Maison Law for a free legal consultation on your accident. Tell us what happened to you or your teenage driver so that we can help you determine what your case is worth and how to force an auto insurance provider to offer fair compensation.

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