The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety today released a study (PDF) showing a strong association between the number and age of passengers present in-vehicle and the risk of a teen driver dying in a traffic crash.
The report, based off of U.S.-statistics, found that the likelihood of a 16- or 17-year-old driver being killed in a crash, per mile driven, increases with each additional young passenger in the vehicle.
Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s fatality risk:
- Increases 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
- Doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
- Quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
Conversely, carrying at least one passenger aged 35 or older cuts a teen driver’s risk of death by 62 percent, and risk of involvement in any police-reported crash by 46 percent, highlighting the protective influence that parents and other adults have in the car.
The study analyzed data on crashes and the number of miles driven by 16- and 17-year-olds to assess the effect on a teen driver’s safety of having passengers in the vehicle. Though widely accepted that passengers pose a risk, recent changes – such as the adoption by most states of varying passenger restrictions for novice teen drivers, and a substantial overall decline in teen traffic fatalities – beg the question of just how significant the risk is.
Crash data analyzed by the AAA Foundation found that in Illinois, between 2006-2010, there were 273 fatal crashes that involved a 16-17 year-old driver. Of those crashes, 141 (52 percent) fatal crashes happened when at least one other passenger under 21 was in the car with the teen driver. That number dropped to 21 (8 percent) when there was at least one passenger over 21 in the car with the teen driver.
“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” said Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago. “These findings should send a clear message to families that parents can make their teens safer immediately by refusing to allow them to get in the car with other young people, whether they’re behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.”
“The connection between carrying young passengers and increased fatal crash risk is clear, and placing appropriate limits is a key part of graduated driver licensing,” said Mosher. “By limiting the number of passengers that 16- and 17-year-old drivers can have in the car, these policies help ensure that teens stay focused on the road and gain the experience they need to become safe drivers. It’s critical, too, that parents enforce the law and family rules that restrict passengers and help keep their teens safe.”
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