Study: Teen-Driver Fatalities Likelier with Young Passengers

Another teen-focused study recently published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows a significant increase in crash and fatality risk for young drivers carrying young passengers in their vehicle.

A 16- or 17-year-old driver with one passenger younger than 21 years old is 44 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared with when they have no passengers, according to the study.

The fatality risk increases exponentially with more young passengers in the car, doubling for teenage drivers with two passengers younger than 21 years old and roughly quadrupling with three or more passengers under age 21.

On the other hand, the study found that having at least one passenger who was 35 or older was associated with a 62 percent decrease in the driver’s risk of being killed in a crash.

Teen Crash Fatalities Halved, but Young Passengers Still a Problem

The report revisits a topic that, when last studied, was based on data that is “now over a decade old,” according to the study. Since that time, the number of fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers has dropped by more than half as most states in the U.S. have implemented graduated driver licensing programs that restrict roadway rights of new drivers, including carrying underage passengers.

“These results show that although the overall number of teen driver fatalities has decreased substantially over the past several years, carrying young passengers is still a significant risk factor for young drivers,” the study stated.

The entire study, titled “Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers,” is available on the foundation’s website.

Young Passengers Least Likely to Stop Distracted Driving

Overall, teenagers are already vulnerable to fatal incidents on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that traffic crashes are the leading single cause of death for teenagers, who are involved in three times as many fatal crashes per mile driven as any other age group in the U.S.

Combining young drivers with young passengers may be a recipe for disaster, as young drivers are the age group most susceptible to being distracted behind the wheel and young passengers are the least likely to stop such behavior.

According to an NHTSA survey published last month, young passengers were the least likely to say something to a distracted driver about their behavior. About one-third of passengers aged 18 to 24 reported that they would speak up if they were in a car with a driver using a hand-held phone, compared with half of 65-year-old drivers and older who said they would do the same.

At the same time, motorists under 25 years old are two to three times more likely to send or read a text or email behind the wheel.

Insurance Implications

Getting an online car insurance quote is likely to show unpleasantly higher rates for parents shopping for their newly licensed driver.

Studies from both federal entities, like the NHTSA, and independent sources, like AAA, repeatedly connect teenagers with riskier habits on the road, including distracted driving and carrying passengers who increase the danger of crashing. Insurers consequently charge higher insurance premiums for those new drivers.

More crashes on a teenager’s driving record will undoubtedly hike his or her insurance premium, but it’s not as clear-cut for other risky habits behind the wheel commonly linked to teenagers.

Distracted driving violations like talking on a hand-held phone can bring a citation, but in some states the citation is classified as a violation that doesn’t appear on a driving record and doesn’t lead to costlier insurance.

The citation is noted on driving records in states with harsher enforcement of distracted driving laws, but how the violation is treated depends on the insurer.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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