After hours: Curfew and driving laws

Teens open up about responsibility





In the past two months, three area teenagers, including Alex Capozza of Torrey Pines High School and William Wardrip of Santa Fe Christian School, have died in car accidents that occurred after curfew. None were wearing seat belts; two were in cars being driven by teenage friends and two were in cars where the driver had reportedly been drinking.

In light of the tragedies, we decided to catch up with a few students from area high schools about their views on curfew, driving distractions and the responsibility they have as young drivers.

Curfew has always been a topic of debate between parent and child. One may think it is a result of our contemporary lifestyles, but curfew has been around far longer than most would think. In fact, a curfew law has been traced to as early as the Medieval Ages, by ringing bells or banging drums throughout a village.

In case you did not know, San Diego’s curfew for minors is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with certain exceptions listed on the City of San Diego’s Web site at The city of Del Mar’s curfew is 11 p.m. The curfew in Solana Beach is 10 p.m. to sun-up from September to May and 11 p.m. to sun-up from June to August.

When it comes to safe driving and seat-belt use, there didn’t seem to be much debate: Most teens interviewed assumed their passengers are smart enough to do the right thing. But when it comes to curfew, how they treat the rules varied.

When asked about his parent’s enforcement of curfew, High Tech High senior Eric Harmatz replied: “My parents don’t really enforce a curfew, they just sort of tell me to come home at 11. If I come home later, they just ask where I was, no punishment.”

When we asked Eric if he follows the law that all teens have to have a year’s experience of driving before carrying passengers, he replied:

“For the first six months I followed the law, but after that I realized I’m a good driver and I wouldn’t get in an accident. But I see the reason for the law.”

Robert Perelman, a junior at High Tech High, has a bit different circumstance.

“My curfew is 11 p.m. on weekends, and usually I have to be home at dark on weekdays. I wish I could be out longer, but I guess it’s good to be safe. I don’t follow the law, though. I carry passengers sometimes. Passengers are a distraction, and I usually just expect them to put on a seat belt.”

A youth at another high school, who prefers to go unnamed, said she abides by her curfew and understands the repercussions she will face if she strays from the law.

“My parents aren’t really lenient — they pretty much abide by the rules,” she said. “If I am not home by the curfew time, I probably would get my car taken away for some time. I do feel the curfew laws are too strict.”

Tali Gires, a senior at La Jolla High School, says in her environment, curfew is not taken too seriously. If she explains to her parents where she was, her parents will understand and trust her, she said.

“But I do feel the law is too strict. I believe a certain curfew should be enforced, but the current one is too impractical. When it comes to safety when I am driving, however, my friends know to put on a seat belt, and personally, I have never gotten in a car without one.”

Other students agreed that the curfew sometimes causes problems for them, especially after work or school events.

One, who attends Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley, said, “Many times school events run later than the curfew time and it sucks when you have to make your parents come and pick you up.”

Another CCA student noted that the fact they can’t have others in the car with them means they can’t carpool to save time and gas. That same student suggest that “maybe if something happens when you have someone in your car then your rights to have other people in your car should be taken away.

Sometimes though, they acknowledge that luck worked in their favor, even when they didn’t follow the rules.

One senior from an area school recounted his horrific accident when a driver haphazardly smashed into him.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the law of having a year’s experience before carrying passengers in my car. The night of my accident, my friend and I were driving to a party at about 8 p.m. when I was going through an intersection and a lady trying to turn left rammed into the side of my car. One thing I remember was the sound of the glass breaking — it was like a bomb going off in my ear. Luckily, nobody was hurt. It could have been a lot worse.”

As teens, we wonder if it is time for San Diego to be more lenient on the curfew and teen driving laws, or whether the laws should be more strictly enforced.

Either way, teenagers assume a huge responsibility when driving, and are trusted to make the right choices. The boy involved in the crash could have been one of the thousands of teens involved in a crash when carrying passengers. In fact, MADD reports that young drivers are 3.1 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than when driving alone. As we have witnessed, these choices could mean life or death.

Colburn Mowry is a senior at La Jolla High School. Shanna McCue is a junior from San Diego High Tech High. Pooja Magavi is a senior at Canyon Crest Academy.