Passengers Continue to Elevate Risk of Accidents for Teenage DriversOver the years, researchers have found that teenagers are more prone than adults to take risks while driving, a tendency reinforced with the addition of similarly aged passengers in the vehicle. Based on statistics that are now more than a decade old, however, these findings were becoming dated and the accuracy with which they could reflect current transportation trends questionable. Picking up where researchers left off in the early 2000s, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed crash data for 2007-2010 to determine whether driving with passengers still increased a teen’s risk of an accident. The agency concluded it did.
“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “and the number of young passengers in the vehicle has long been a factor considered when investigating the cause of a an accident.”
Although the incidence of fatal collisions among teenagers has decreased since the earlier studies where conducted—in large part due to the implementation of graduated driver licensing programs in many states—the presence of young passengers continues to elevate a teenage driver’s likelihood of a fatal accident. Compared to 1998, 1,439 fewer 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in crashes resulting in death in 2010.
After studying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the AAA Foundation found that the addition of one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers) to a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s vehicle increased the risk of a fatal collision by 44 percent; the addition of two passengers younger than 21 doubled this risk; and adding three or more passengers under the age of 21 quadrupled this risk. Conversely, researchers found that having at least one passenger aged 35 or older in the vehicle decreased the risk of a deadly accident by 62 percent.
Inexperienced behind the wheel and prone to underestimating the risks of dangerous situations, teenage drivers are more likely to speed, drive while drinking or distracted, and not wear their seat belts when among their like-minded peers than when with adults. That this phenomenon persists despite the efforts of local, state, and federal traffic agencies to combat such behaviors through media campaigns, educational programs in schools, and enforcement, should serve as an indicator to parents of the importance of enforcing rules with their young drivers—whether the state’s or their own.
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