Obtaining a driver's license is an exciting milestone for teenagers and parents alike. Unfortunately, however, that tiny card can also serve as a ticket to devastation for many teens. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teen drivers are at a higher risk of becoming involved in a motor vehicle accident than any other age group except the elderly. In fact, teen drivers are four times more likely to become involved in a fatality accident than adult drivers, and in the first few months of licensure, that risk is even greater.
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One of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents involving teenagers is distracted driving. While the use of cellular phones and other electronic devices are well known driver distractions that raise the risk for car crashes, a less commonly recognized distraction may pose almost as much risk for young drivers, according to recent studies.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there is a strong association between the number of passengers who are present in a motor vehicle and their ages and the risk of becoming involved in a car crash, particularly when the driver is 18 or younger. In fact, when compared to driving without any passengers in the vehicle, a 16 year-old or 17 year-old driver's risk:
- for becoming involved in a fatality accident increases by approximately 44% with just a single passenger under the age of 21.
- for becoming involved in a motor vehicle accident resulting in death doubles when two passengers under 21 are present and there are no older passengers, and quadruples when the vehicle is carrying three or more passengers under the age of 21 with no older passengers present.
- for becoming involved in a car crash that results in injuries that require medical treatment increases by 60% when passengers of any age are present, according to Dr. Suzanne McEvoy, the lead investigator of a recent study published by the George Institute for International Health in Sydney, Australia.
- for becoming involved in a fatality car crash decreases by an impressive 62% when an adult age 35 or older is present in the vehicle.
- for becoming involved in any type of crash increases with the presence of young passengers. An alarming 71% of males and 47% of females involved in crashes due to distractions inside the vehicle said the actions of their passengers were the cause.
Ways Young Passengers Increase Crash Risk
Although passengers rarely distract drivers intentionally, they may not realize the effects of their actions/ presence with respect to driver attention and behavior.
- Studies show that male drivers are six times more likely to perform risky behavior or drive aggressively when accompanied by peer passengers. Behaviors often included speeding, tailgaiting and otherwise "showing off".
- Teens are more likely to avoid safety belt usage when accompanied by peers, therefore increasing the risk for accidents to result in serious injuries or fatalities.
- The presence of alcohol in crashes involving teens increased when young passengers were present.
Fortunately, a recent focus on the dangers of teen driver distractions caused by younger passengers has resulted in many states adopting a graduated driver's licensing system that regulates things like passengers, driving hours, etc. for younger, less experienced drivers. In the state of Illinois, for example, driver's licensing regulations allow for no more than one non-family member passenger under the age of 20 for the first year a teen driver is licensed. GDL systems like the one in Illinois have been shown to reduce the risk of fatality accidents involving teen drivers by 20-40 percent, and those that regulate the number of passengers for new drivers have reduced the rate of accidents resulting in death by 9 percent.
While carrying younger passengers is a significant risk for teen drivers, it is also a preventable one. Parents, teens and passengers can help reduce the risk for injury orfatality car crashes by:
- Observing the rules set forth by the state of Illinois with regards to the graduated driver's licensing system.
- Agreeing that teens will not ride as passengers with other teen drivers without advance permission from parents, even when the driver has been licensed for more than one year.
- Providing acceptable transportation alternatives for teens to lessen the temptation to break the rules.
- Communicating with other parents of teen drivers, school officials, etc. to better enforce the rules.
- Taking the time to allow older passengers to ride along with teen drivers to help reduce distractions caused by other passengers.
- Communicating appropriate passenger behavior to minimize potential distractions.
There are numerous types of monitoring devices available for parents who wish to monitor their teen's driving behavior when no adult can be present. According to the IIHS, the use of these types of devices can significantly reduce risky behaviors by teen drivers.