Teen Driver Who Had Her Bikini Top Unfastened Found Not Liable for Distracted Driving Collision
While many people recognize the risk of collisions caused by distracted teen drivers, some may think that cell phones constitute the primary distraction that contributes to crashes involving teen drivers. Although cell phone texting and calling activity is a serious distraction for many teen drivers, teenage passengers may be just as dangerous. A study conducted by AAA found that the accident fatality rate for teen drivers increases substantially when teen drivers give their peers a ride. The fatality rate increased 44 percent when just one passenger under the age of 21 was in the vehicle and doubled when two such passengers were in the vehicle. The accident rate actually quadrupled with three or more passengers in the vehicle under 21 according to the AAA report.
A recent personal injury lawsuit brought against a teen driver who was involved in a fatal crash when she was distracted by another teenager in the vehicle provides a vivid example of this phenomenon. The driver was sued for injuries suffered by a teen passenger during a collision that occurred when yet another teen passenger unfastened the teen driver's bikini top according to a New York Daily News report. The male teenager who pulled the bikini string of the driver's top and caused her to remove her hands from the steering wheel died in the crash. A New York appellate court ruled that the problem with her bikini top constituted "a sudden and unforeseen emergency not of her own making."
While this ruling might seem predictable, the case was particularly interesting because the same passenger that distracted the teen driver had already engaged in prior conduct that was distracting and could have caused a crash according to the news report. The plaintiff in the personal injury lawsuit testified that the passenger who unfastened the driver's bikini had previously opened an umbrella in the car and put his feet in the face of the driver. Given these prior distractions, the plaintiff contended that the bikini top distraction was foreseeable so the driver was negligent in not taking appropriate steps like pulling over and refusing to transport the distracting passenger.
Despite the ruling of this out of state court, it is not clear whether a Georgia court would reach a similar conclusion. Certain emergencies that are not reasonably foreseeable will not necessarily justify imposing liability. If the emergency is foreseeable, then the driver's response to the emergency must be evaluated to determine if it was reasonable under the circumstances.
This type of teen driving tragedy illustrates while many states impose restrictions on the ability of inexperienced teen drivers to transport their peers as passengers. This type of conduct may be more likely to occur when teenagers who have less experience with the dangers of distracted driving are in a vehicle. Further, teenagers also have less experience coping with driving distractions.
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