It may not surprise anyone to learn that teenage drivers are especially dangerous, primarily due to their inexperience. However, a new study by the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) safety foundation indicates that there are certain risk factors that greatly increase the danger when a teen is behind the wheel of a car.
The study shows that a key factor is who else is in the car. If there are other young people traveling as passengers, the risk goes up. The risks go down, however, if an older adult is in the car with the teen driver.
According to the report, “Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers,” the chances of a driver aged 16 to 17 suffering a fatality in an automobile accident increases with every additional young person in the car.1
The numbers are eye-opening: as compared to driving with no passengers, the risk of fatality increases by 44 percent when there is one passenger under21, in the car. With two young passengers, the risk doubles, and with three, it quadruples.
In contrast, if there is an older passenger present in the car, the risk is greatly reduced. The study found that a teenage motorist’s risk of death is reduced by 62 percent if one or more passengers aged 35 or older are present. In addition, the chance of being involved in any crash reported to the police is reduced by 46 percent.
Some states have adopted restrictions on the number of passengers for teenage drivers, and the number of teen traffic fatalities has decreased overall in recent years. But the problem is still significant.
AAA’s study analyzed data from 2006 to2010 in Illinois, which saw 273 fatal collisions involving a driver aged 16 or 17. Of those accidents, 52 percent occurred when there were one or more passengers under the age of 21 present in the automobile with the teen motorist. The number dropped to 8 percent when there was one or more passengers over the age of 21 present.
Beth Mosher, AAA Chicago’s director of public affairs, addressed the findings.
“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” she said. “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.”