Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Room for One More? Nope

Last week we touched on the importance of night driving restrictions for novice teen drivers. This week we turn our attention to another key component of graduated driver licensing: passenger limits.

Today, the AAA Foundation released a new report, Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers, detailing how much the risk of a teen driver getting into a crash is affected by the number and age of the passengers he or she is carrying. The results largely corroborate the findings of earlier studies that were conducted before many states enacted passenger restrictions as part of their GDL systems.

Compared with driving alone, a 16- or 17-year-old driver carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and with no older passengers) has a 44 percent greater chance of death per mile driven. Having two passengers younger than 21 doubles the risk of death, compared with driving alone. Carrying three or more young passengers quadruples the risk of death.

In contrast, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven is reduced 62 percent when driving with an adult aged 35 or older.

These startling numbers point to two things. First, they highlight how important it is that states have worked to enact passenger limits for novice teen drivers. Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have such restrictions in place, though many of these do allow one teen peer to be in the vehicle. Second, they serve as a strong reminder of the protective influence that adult passengers have on teen drivers, and the benefits of parents continuing to drive with their teens even after the learner’s permit phase has ended.

Other Foundation research has also touched on the issue of teens with passengers. Our recent naturalistic study of teen distracted driving found that loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when teens drove with multiple teen passengers compared to when only one teen passenger was present. These were also among the riskiest distracting conditions for teen drivers: serious incidents, for example, were six times more likely to occur when there was loud conversation in the vehicle.

As teens gear up for prom, graduation, end-of-year parties, and summer vacation, the temptation to pile friends into the car and hit the open road is going to rise with the temperature. But since the risk of driver death also rises with each additional passenger, we take this opportunity to remind everybody of the importance of passenger restrictions, and the right parents have to set their own – even if their state hasn’t.

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