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Jul/Aug 2012 Issue

More passengers multiply the risks of teen drivers having deadly crashes, study finds

Young drivers often view adding passengers to the car as the more the merrier, but a new AAA study has found that it’s the more the deadlier.

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 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 who are younger than 21 (and no older passengers)

Conversely, carrying at least one passenger age 35 or older cuts a teen driver’s risk of death by 62 percent, and risk of involvement in any police-related crash by 46 percent, highlighting the protective influence that parents and other adults have in the car.

Safety advocates have long known that the presence of teen passengers can be distracting for teen drivers. Yet most previous studies on the issue are more than a decade old, and and now all states have varying forms of “graduated licensing” laws (GDL) that place some restrictions on teen drivers, including some that limit teens from driving with passengers under age 21.

Under the GDL law in Missouri, no more than one unrelated passenger under 19 is allowed with an intermediate license holder during the first six months. No more than three teen passengers are allowed thereafter.

In Illinois, no more than one unrelated passenger under 20 is allowed during the first 12 months of intermediate licensure. For restricted license holders in Kansas, no unrelated minor passengers are allowed for drivers under 16 and no more than one minor passenger is allowed for license holders 16 or older. In Indiana, no unrelated passengers are allowed during the first 180 days of licensure unless accompanied by a licensed driver 25 or older.

“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.”

Additionally, given the significant decrease in risk seen when adults 35 and older were present, parents and guardians also can help protect novice teen drivers by spending more time in the car with them.

AAA Foundation urges families to consider these steps:

  • Know the graduated driver licensing system for your state, and remember that 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 to provide guidance.
  • Click on for resources that can help teens become safer drivers, including a parent-teen driving agreement.

Teen drivers chart

Fatal crash risk for young teen drivers doubles when carrying two teen passengers.


Auto repair contests spur interest in technical careers

Students looking to jumpstart their careers in the automotive industry are getting a boost from the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition.

The annual auto repair competition, which is held in all 50 states each spring, is designed to encourage young people to pursue careers as automotive service technicians. At stake for the high school students is more than $12 million in scholarships and a chance to be named top technicians in their states and the nation.

To qualify, the students had to take a written exam. The top students advanced to the hands-on portion. In each state in April and May, contests were held as teams consisting of two students each raced to repair deliberately bugged Ford cars. Students had to find and repair all 10 faults, and scores were based on their time and accuracy.

In Arkansas, Dakota Phillips and Shevin Brace of Rogers High School were named state champs at the contest, which was held at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville. Their instructor is Michael Bowles.

The top team in the Louisiana contest, which was held in Alexandria, was composed of John Hoover and Moheb Alashmaly from McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, La. Their instructor is Kevin McCants.

For the fifth consecutive year, a two-student team from Clinton High School won the Mississippi competition, which was held in Jackson. Students Daniel Williams and Hayden Beard were named the top student technicians in the state. Their instructor is Charlie Melton.

By winning the hands-on contest in their states, the students received their choice of scholarships from a number of technical institutes. Also, the winners received an all-expenses-paid trip to Dearborn, Mich., to represent their states in the national championship, which was held in mid-June after press deadline for this issue.


Students repairing cars in the Arkansas competition.


Alabama bans texting while driving

Alabama became the 38th state to prohibit texting behind the wheel by all drivers with a new law that will take effect on Aug. 1.

Under the new law, motorists caught texting behind the wheel will be fined $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense, and $75 for a third or subsequent offense. Alabama and 37 other states, plus the District of Columbia, ban text messaging by all drivers. Additionally, 10 states and the District of Columbia prohibit all hand-held cell phone use while driving, including talking.

“With Gov. (Robert) Bentley’s signature, now more than three-quarters of all states outlaw one of the riskiest behaviors behind the wheel–texting and driving,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Alabama roads and motorists will be safer as a result of this law, which reminds everyone that we cannot ignore the potentially life-altering dangers associated with text messaging and driving.”

Arkansas and Louisiana also prohibit texting behind the wheel for all drivers. Mississippi’s law prohibits texting while driving for school bus drivers and novice drivers who have a learner’s permit or intermediate driver’s license.


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