Study: Teen Driver Fatality Risk Increases With Passengers
An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study released on Tuesday found that the likelihood that a 16- or 17-year-old driver will be killed in a car accident increases with each additional passenger, and decreases dramatically when an adult is present. AAA timed the release in conjunction with Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.
As Joan Lowy writes for Associated Press in The Washington Post, “Summer is the deadliest time of year for teen drivers and their passengers. An average of 422 teens die monthly in traffic crashes during summer compared to an average of 363 teen deaths during the non-summer months.”
The study shows that a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven increases 44% when there is one passenger younger than 21 and no older passengers, Lowy reports. The risk doubles when there are two passengers under 21, and it quadruples when there are three or more under-21 passengers. However, the risk of a teen driver dying in a crash decreases by 62% when there is a passenger 35 or older.
In The New York Times blog Wheels, Tanya Mohn writes that researchers conducted the study using crash data from 2007 through 2010, from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Household Travel Survey, both administered by the Transportation Department.
In The Washington Post, Lowy notes:
Researchers have long known that the presence of other teens is distracting to novice drivers, but most previous studies on the issue are more than a decade old and don’t reflect changes in state driving laws that began in the mid-1990s. Since then, every state has adopted a ‘graduated licensing’ law that places some restrictions on teen drivers. The laws vary, but typically they restrict teens from driving with any passengers under age 21, or just one young passenger, and bar nighttime driving.
A goal of the AAA report, J. Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the foundation, told Wheels, was to draw attention to the importance of passenger restrictions and parental involvement. Passenger restrictions are critical for auto safety and a key element in graduated driver licensing laws, he said. Wheels notes that 25 states have graduated driver licensing laws that allow no more than one passenger during the first six months that a teenager has a license.
In Colorado, the law says the following to licensed drivers under 18:
- While you still have your permit, you can only drive with a driving instructor, parent/legal guardian or a licensed adult 21 years of age or older
The first year:
- For the first six months of your license, only passengers 21 and over
- For the second six months, only one passenger under 21
- Siblings and passengers with medical emergencies excepted
- Only one passenger in the front seat at any time
- All passengers must wear seatbelts.
- Texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is against the law for drivers under age 18 in Colorado. Emergency calls to police are the exception.
But just because states have graduated licensing laws “doesn’t mean everyone is obeying them,” Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, told the Associated Press.
Lowy quotes Adkins:
‘Graduated licensing laws are really good, but we rely on the parents to be the ones enforcing them,’ he said. Police can cite teen drivers for violating license restrictions if they pull them over for other reasons, but it’s difficult for officers to stop drivers with teen passengers just because they look young, he said.
The AAA Foundation’s Kissinger told Wheels that these risks are “extremely preventable.” He recommends that parents protect their teens by: becoming more active in enforcing restrictions, spending more time with them when teens are driving, and providing a variety of driving experiences both before and after the teens receive their driver’s licenses. The foundation additionally recommends that families sign a parent-teenager driving agreement that outlines the terms of driving, and it asks parents to set passenger limits, even if their state does not.
“Laws do not prevent teen passengers from getting in a car with novice drivers, just as they do not prevent them from getting into cars with drivers who had been drinking,” Kissinger said.
You can download a copy of the “Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers” report here.
Image by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, used under Fair Use: Reporting.