Following the deaths of three Geneva High School students in a Christmas evening accident, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is encouraging parents to follow the Alabama Graduated Driver’s License Law that only allows one non-family passenger in a vehicle when the driver is 16.
The Geneva accident killed Cassidy Dunn, Emilee Fain and Addyson Martin, all who were 16, and critically injured one other passenger. A fifth occupant in the vehicle was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and released.
The official cause of the accident, which happened when the vehicle left the road and ran into a wooded area off Westville Avenue on Christmas around 6 p.m., has not been released. The three girls who died were sitting in the front seat of the vehicle at the time of the accident, while the other two passengers were in the back seat.
“We have multiple families whose lives will never be the same,” said ALEA Capt. Tracy Nelson on Monday. “Would the outcome be different if the driver had followed the Alabama Graduated Driver’s License Law? I can’t answer that. But, clearly the law was broken by having too many teenagers inside the vehicle. So, it is our goal to remind parents of the law.”
According to the state’s Graduated Driver’s License Law, it includes three stages: Learner’s Permit, Restricted License, and Unrestricted License. An Alabama driver with a Restricted License (16-year-old drivers, as well as 17-year-old drivers licensed less than six months) may not:
» Have more than one non-family passenger other than the parent, guardian, or supervising licensed driver at least 21 years of age.
» Operate a vehicle between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m., unless: accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, accompanied by a licensed adult 21 years of age or older with parental consent, going to or from their regular place of work, going to or from a school-sponsored event, going to or from a religious-sponsored event, driving due to a medical, fire, or law enforcement emergency, driving to or from hunting/fishing activities in possession of required licenses, and drive while operating any non-essential handheld communication device.
Violations will result in an extension of the graduated license period and/or suspension of the license.
“This law was created to help aid young, inexperienced drivers from becoming distracted,” Nelson said. “This law allows a young driver to focus on what they are supposed to be doing ... driving a vehicle properly.
“Look at a young driver who is not experienced, or better yet ride with one. A young driver needs all of their attention placed on the roadway. Their attention does not need to be conversations taking place in the vehicle, listening to the radio or anything else. Every driver must be alert to make quick decisions, and a young driver distracted can’t safely make those decisions. A vehicle can be dangerous, and it is something that should be taken very serious.”
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, motor vehicles crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Drivers age 16-19 are twice as likely to be involved in an accident as those 20-24; three times as likely as those 25-29; and more than four times as likely as those 30-69. Among those 16-19 years old, the youngest drivers have the highest risk.
In Alabama, vehicular deaths account for almost half of preventable deaths for residents less than 18 years of age each year. “Driver inexperience” is cited as the cause in many of those deaths.