Despite years of studies that show newly licensed teen drivers are at a substantially higher risk of dying behind the wheel when carrying one or more young passengers, many rookie drivers are still engaging in this deadly practice. As proof, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety today released a study showing a strong link between the number and age of passengers present in-vehicle and the risk of a teen driver dying in a crash.
The report, “Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers,” 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. Despite recent progress, the new report confirms that carrying young passengers (under 21) is still a major risk factor for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “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 in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “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.”
Additionally, given the significant decrease in risk seen when adults 35 and older were present, parents and guardians can also help protect novice teen drivers by spending more time in the car with them. “The AAA Foundation is dedicated to reducing the number of fatalities on our roadways, and we want to get the message out when we see an opportunity to reduce the risk of a crash or fatality among the riskiest drivers on the road,” said Kissinger. “Parents and teens together can reduce this risk today.”
Passenger Restrictions (except family unless noted) – Intermediate Stage
|District of Columbia||For the first 6 months, intermediate license holders may not carry any passengers (except drivers 21 and older and family members). Thereafter, drivers may transport no more than 2 passengers under 21 (except family members).|
|Maryland||For the first 5 months during this stage, teens are prohibited from transporting passengers under the age of 18 (immediate family exempt and secondarily enforced).|
|Virginia||Provisional license holders under 18 are prohibited from transporting more than 1 passenger under 18 for the first year they hold their license. After the first year, provisional license holders are prohibited from transporting more than 3 passengers under 18 until they reach age 18. Family members are exempted from all passenger restrictions (secondary enforcement).|
What to do
AAA Foundation urges families to consider these steps:
Know the graduated driver licensing system for your state, and remember: even if the law doesn’t set a passenger limit, parents can.
Sign a parent-teen driving agreement that stipulates teens will not ride as passengers of teen drivers without a parent’s advance permission.
Provide transportation alternatives for teens who honor that pledge.
Talk with other parents so they know the rules for your teen and will help enforce them
Spend time as a passenger when your teen is at the wheel. Your presence and your guidance help make your teen a safer driver.
- Visit www.Teendriving.AAA.com for resources that can help teens become safer drivers, including a parent-teen driving agreement covering safety risks like passengers, cell-phone use and night driving.