Fatigue and inexperience a dangerous combination for Missouri teen drivers

blurryroad.jpgAs Springfield personal injury lawyers, we know that teen drivers are at an increased risk for car accidents. Teens are especially likely to cause crashes because they're inexperienced and therefore prone to misjudging roadway situations and responding to them poorly. When this inexperience is combined with other risk factors, a teen's crash risk skyrockets.

Recently, a Pennsylvania teenager was trapped in her SUV for nearly 18 hours after the vehicle crossed a roadway center line, struck a utility pole, flew around 20 feet and overturned onto its roof in a culvert. According to the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, 18 year-old Brooke Spence was pinned in the vehicle from Saturday night until Sunday evening. Her SUV, camouflaged by underbrush in the culvert, went unnoticed until a neighbor, preparing to barbeque on his deck, noticed something glinting in the underbrush near his property. He went to investigate. "I was looking down in the driver's side window, and I saw something move," said Brad Shearer. "She was lying on her back and [moved her head]. Then I could see her face. I went, 'Oh my God, she's alive. There's someone in there.'"

Shearer called 911 - Spence had lost her phone in the crash and had been unable to call for help. She is reportedly in fair condition at a nearby hospital, although police declined to comment on the exact nature of her injuries. Authorities do not believe any of the usual factors - speeding, drinking and texting - played a role in the crash; rather, they suspect Spence may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Police Corporal Douglas Ober told the Intelligencer Journal that Spence had a "very busy day" leading up to the accident. "It is still my belief that inattentive driving was a contributing factor in this crash," Cpl. Ober said. "My investigation has found absolutely no indications that she was involved in any illegal acts prior to the crash and do not suspect texting was a factor as well."

Teen drivers and fatigue: Facts and statistics

• Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens. Over half of serious crashes involving teen drivers can be linked to three critical driving errors: (1) lack of scanning to detect/react to roadway situations; (2) traveling too fast for road conditions (particularly when navigating curves and turns); and (3) inattentiveness.

• Fatigue affects driving performance in a way that's similar to alcohol use: it impairs a driver's reaction time, attention span and motor skills. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that being awake for an 18 hour time period is like having a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, which is legally intoxicated. Since teenagers also lack driving experience, a fatigued teen has an extremely high risk of causing a crash.

• According to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the majority of car accidents linked to fatigue are caused by young drivers under age 25. Teen drivers who get less than eight hours of sleep per night are one-third more likely to cause an accident than those who get a full night's rest.

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