Study: Young drivers and teen passengers are a risky mix

By Barbara Marquand on October 29th, 2012

A carload of buddies increases the chances that a teen driver will take dangerous risks behind the wheel, according to new research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The study, which examined risky behavior among 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes, found that:

  • Among teen drivers with two teen passengers, 44 percent drove over the speed limit, and among those with three or more passengers, 48 percent broke the speed limit, compared to 30 percent of teen drivers with no passengers.
  • Seventeen percent of teens with no passengers drove late at night, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., compared to 22 percent of teens with two passengers and 28 percent with three or more teen passengers.
  • Thirteen percent of teens with no passengers drank and drove, compared to 17 percent of teens with two passengers and 18 percent of teens with three or more passengers.

"Mixing young drivers with teen passengers can have dangerous consequences," AAA President & CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a press statement. "AAA urges parents to set and consistently enforce family rules that limit newly licensed teens from driving with young passengers."

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed data on fatal crashes that occurred in the United States from 2005 through 2010. Previous research by the foundation showed that, compared with driving alone, the risk of death in a car crash for 16- and 17-year-old drivers increases 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21, doubles with two passengers and quadruples with three or more young passengers. Another foundation study showed horseplay and distracting, loud conversation were more common when teens drove friends than when they drove siblings or adult passengers.

"These new findings underscore the need to refocus our efforts to address the problem, from state legislatures to parents," AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a prepared statement.

AAA calls for all states to adopt and enforce a three-stage graduated licensing system for new drivers. The stages include a learner's permit, intermediate or probationary license, and a full, unrestricted license. Such programs limit driving at night and driving with young passengers to help teens gain the skills and experience they need to drive responsibly.

Teen drivers are involved in more crashes per mile than drivers of any other age group, and drivers ages 16 and 17 are involved in about seven times as many crashes per mile driven compared to drivers in their 40s, 50s or 60s, the foundation says. This is why auto insurance rates are so high for teen drivers.

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