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Speeding and alcohol may have left an 18-year-old Buena Park man dead and a teenage passenger hurt this morning in a single-vehicle auto accident near Merten Avenue and Moody Street, the Orange County Register reported on today.

According to the article, Philip Na was driving a Toyota Camry about 1:40 a.m. Wednesday when it careened off the road and hit a light pole, police officials said.

Na died at the scene. His 17-year-old passenger was taken to La Palma Intercommunity Hospital with minor injuries. The boy, who was not identified because he is a minor, was treated and released to his parents, officials said.

Officers are investigating the accident, but preliminary reports show that a combination of speed and alcohol contributed to the crash, police said.

Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence in our country. Alcohol abuse and speeding are among the most common cause of auto accidents involving teenagers in our country. In this particular case, the 18-year-old driver died, but had he survived he would have been liable for the injuries and emotional trauma he caused his 17-year-old passenger by drinking and driving.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control posts a few interesting details on its tip sheet on the subject written by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, an arm of the CDC.

Studies show that two out of five deaths among U.S. teens is a result of an auto accident. The risk of a motor vehicle accident is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash, according to the agency’s statistics. Here are some proven risk factors that the agency cites, which go against teen drivers:

* Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed, run red lights, make illegal turns, ride with an intoxicated driver, and drive after using alcohol or drugs

* Among male drivers between 15-20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2003, 39% were speeding at the time of the crash

* At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers

* In 2003, 25% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dl or higher

* In a national survey conducted in 2003, 30% of teens reported that within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. One in eight reported having driven after drinking alcohol within the same one-month period

* In 2003, among teen drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving, 74% were unrestrained

These are scary details for any parent to read. But we must consider these facts before handing off the car keys to our teens. Better yet, we must do everything we can to educate our children about the dangers of speeding and drunk driving.

From my position as a personal injury lawyer, I can tell you that a parent that provides those car keys to their child, be they an adult or teenager, it is possible for the parent to be held fully personally responsible for any harm their child causes under a theory of “negligent entrustment”. Such financial responsibility can reach far beyound what a parent’s auto insurance would cover.

With the right circumstances, a skilled personal injury attorney could recover a very substantial amount from a parent, or for that matter, anyone, who negligently entrusts an automobile to an impaired or otherwise dangerous driver. When you hand off car keys, you can be just as liable as if you were handing off a gun. In the wrong hands, cars have proven to be much more deadly than firearms.

As I write this, I am thinking about my mom and her driving. My mom will be eighty this year. She tells me she only drives on surface streets, during the day and only when the weather is good. Knowing what I know about my mom’s driving, if I was to give her my car keys on a rainy day and she caused an accident, I can see how a sharp personal injury attorney could be coming after me personally. We’ll see what my mom has to say after she reads this.

Here is a link to another useful educational Web site about preventing injuries as a result of auto accidents:

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