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Jan/Feb 2013 Issue

Risky behaviors rise for teenage drivers with peer passengers along for the ride

Mixing young drivers and teen passengers is a recipe for increased risky driving behaviors that have deadly consequences, a new AAA study has found.

According to the study, which was conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, risky behaviors like speeding, drinking, and late-night driving among 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes increased when teen passengers were present. Indeed, the prevalence of these risk factors generally rose as the number of teenage passengers increased.

“Our past research clearly shows how young passengers substantially increase a novice driver’s risk of being in a fatal crash, and these new findings underscore the need to refocus our efforts, to address the problem, from state legislatures to parents,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “Teen crashes remain a huge problem nationwide.”

The AAA Foundation analyzed fatal crash data in the United States from 2005–2010, and researchers found that 9,578 drivers age 16 and 17 were involved in fatal crashes, and that 3,994 of these included at least one teen passenger. Among those young drivers involved in fatal crashes:

  • The prevalence of speeding increased from 30 percent with zero passengers to 44 percent and 48 percent with two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
  • The prevalence of late-night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) climbed from 17 percent when the driver was alone to 22 percent and 28 percent with two and three or more teens along for the ride.
  • The prevalence of alcohol use rose from 13 percent with no teen passengers to 17 percent and 18 percent with two and three or more teen passengers.

With motor vehicle crashes ranking as the leading cause of death for teens, AAA is calling for greater parental involvement and stronger graduated driver’s licensing (GDL) programs to promote road safety. While most GDL programs include restrictions on passengers at least for the first few months, teenage passengers still are present in more than two of every five fatal crashes of 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

In Arkansas, drivers with an intermediate license may not operate a vehicle with more than one unrelated passenger under 21 unless accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older. And intermediate license holders in Louisiana may not drive with more than one non-family passenger under 21 between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. Mississippi has no teen passenger restrictions.

This study builds on an earlier AAA Foundation report that shows the risk of death in a traffic crash for 16- and 17-year-old drivers increases by 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21, doubles with two, and quadruples with three or more younger passengers, compared with driving alone.

AAA has a wide range of tools at to make the learning-to-drive process safer, including parent-teen driving agreements, online webinars, and more.

Young drivers admit to nodding off while behind the wheel

New data presented by AAA that shows that young drivers are more likely to drive while drowsy should serve as a wake-up call about this overlooked and underestimated risk.

Based on a recent survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in seven licensed drivers ages 16–24 admitted to having nodded off at least once while driving in the past year as compared to one in 10 of all licensed drivers who confessed to falling asleep during the same period.

These new findings echo data from a 2010 AAA Founda-tion study of national crash data that estimates that young drivers age 16–24 were more likely, by some 78 percent, to be drowsy at the time of the crash as compared to drivers age 40–59. This earlier analysis also revealed that one in six deadly crashes involve a drowsy driver, making it one of the leading contributors to traffic crashes.

Driving while sleepy or fatigued can significantly impact driving ability, causing slower reaction time, vision impairment, and lapses in judgment. Signs of drowsy driving can include:

  • Trouble remembering the last miles driven or missing exits and traffic signs
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused
  • Yawning frequently
  • Drifting from your lane or off the road
  • Daydreaming or having wandering thoughts.

AAA urges motorists to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over if experiencing any of these symptoms.

teen crash
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.

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