Glass was shattered everywhere, the left airbag went off and her Mazda 3 Hatchback door was crumpled. As Sloane Chmara ’15 reevaluated what had just happened, she could already feel a tightening in her neck and shoulders, growing effects of whiplash.
Car accidents are a leading cause of injuries and deaths of teenagers, especially between the ages of 16-19. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2012 Teen Fatality Facts, teen drivers between these ages are three times as likely to be involved in car accidents than drivers who are 20 years or older.
One study showed that 16- and 17-year-old drivers are nine times more likely to be in a car accident.
“I was at an intersection on a residential street and there wasn’t a stop sign or anything, and so I slowed down and put on my left blinker to make a U-turn,” Chmara said. “There was an Escalade behind me, and as I went to turn, he kept coming from behind me, and he basically smashed into my driver’s side.”
Although Chmara was not severely injured, the driver’s side window was shattered and the driver’s door was crushed near her left knee. The accident occurred while Chmara was on her way to cheer at the Homecoming football game, and she was able to meet with the trainers on campus.
“I think I had a minor concussion from the whiplash,” Chmara said. “[The other driver] was totally fine. His car was dented obviously, but it didn’t have major damage, and mine was totaled.”
Chmara had had her license for a year and a half.
Student drivers that have had a license for less than a year are even more prone to accidents.
According to the California DMV, novice drivers lack hazard detection, have low risk perception and lack skill and knowledge of safety guidelines. Although the overall rate of fatal crashes of drivers age 15 to 20 decreased 46 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to a study by the Insurance Information Institute, car accidents are still prevalent among teens.
“I took about a week off [of cheer] because I really wasn’t feeling well and I had a constant headache the week after,” Chmara said.
Adrianne* ’16 was getting dinner with her friends at the beach and was a passenger while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway.
“It’s known not to be a safe road because a lot of car accidents happen on PCH,” Adrianne said. “We were turning by Pepperdine University [and] a car sped up and hit us…The part that was the weirdest was [that] we didn’t expect anything bad to happen to us — we just never saw it coming.”
As a result of the accident, Adrianne’s friend was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and both Adrianne and the driver were taken to the UCLA hospital by ambulance.
“I had reconstructive surgery to fix some of the nerves and muscles on my face,” Adrianne said. “My friend [had] a few bruises and cuts and scrapes.”
Some of Adrianne’s injuries have persisted.
“I was diagnosed with a vestibular disorder,” Adrianne said. “My inner ears and my brain aren’t linked up very well, and so I still have problems balancing and going on amusement park rides. I still have to check in with the doctors every now and then. I had to do a lot of CT scans after a major concussion.”
Adrianne and her friend had been passengers in their first car accident with a driver that was not legally allowed to drive others yet.
In California, minors have to have their license for a year before driving any passengers under 20 years old, and during this first year, they can’t drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
According to the Automobile Club of Southern California, California’s laws enforcing additional training for teenage drivers have been so effective that deaths and injuries of 16-year-old drivers dropped 34 percent in Los Angeles County the year after driving laws were tightened. However, students continue to break these driving laws, putting themselves and students like Adrianne at risk.
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, for teen drivers, alcohol and drug use, night driving and driving peers as passengers all increase the risk of accidents and fatal accidents.
In Chmara and Adrianne’s cases, both driver and passenger learned from their accidents.
“I learned that you always have to be super careful and aware of the other drivers around you,” Chmara said. “I realized that cars are just material things that can always be replaced, but safety is always the top priority.”
Richard Mayou, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford’s department of psychiatry at Warneford Hospital, found that even when the physical consequences of accidents may be minor, one-third of non-fatal accidents can cause long-lasting “post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent anxiety, depression and phobias” even a year after the accident, according to WebMD, an online medical magazine.
Adrianne realized how dangerous driving can be, “especially illegally.”
“Just because you don’t expect it, you think that you will be safe,” Adrianne said. “But that doesn’t mean you will be 100 percent safe if you get in a car with someone. I drive every day to school, but for the first few days after getting my license, I was very afraid to drive and after a couple minutes, my hands would get sweaty because I would be so scared.”
Both long-term and short-term post-accident stress can also be a side effect of car accidents.
“It made me realize that bad things like car accidents actually happen,” Sheila* ’16 said. “And that they are actually not rare. It’s hard to put a name on reasons why this kind of thing could happen other than bad timing. If I had left earlier, if I had hit a red light on the way, but none of that happened. I think about it all the time and what I could have done differently.”
Car accidents among teen drivers have also been frequent in smaller scales, especially on campus in the student parking lots.
“I have had someone hit the side of my car,” Justine Chen ’16 said. “But it only left a small paint scratch. The spots are really small so sometimes I get worried that the people parked next to me will accidentally hit my car with their door.”
Mollie Berger ’16 carpools with her senior brother and shares a spot in the senior lot, where parking “spots are really small.”
“It’s hard to make some of the turns sometimes,” Berger said. “Someone hit my car while it was parked, [but] the damage wasn’t too bad. But even if you have a bigger spot like we do, you can still get hit really easily. You just have to be ok with the fact that it might happen.”
*Names have been changed