Study: For Teen Drivers, Teen Passengers Worsen Driving Habits

As Teen Driver Safety Week rolls on through Saturday, AAA has released research showing that teenagers’ risky habits behind the wheel are more common when there are teen passengers in the vehicle and, surprisingly, when there are 20- to 29-year-old passengers.

Among 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes, rates of speeding, late-night driving and alcohol use all increased when 13- to 19-year-old passengers were in the car.

In fact, the more teenage passengers were in a car, the more those behaviors were present in teen drivers. The likelihood of speeding increased 14 percent with two teen passengers compared with no passengers, while having three or more passengers increased that likelihood by another 4 percentage points.

The prevalence of drunk driving increased 4 percent when going from having no passenger to having two teenage passengers and another 1 percentage point when there were three or more teen passengers.
From 2005 to 2010, nearly 42 percent of the 9,580 fatal crashes involving drivers ages 16 and 17 years old included at least one teenage passenger, according to the study.

“Teen crashes remain a huge problem nationwide,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety President Peter Kissinger said in a statement. “Our past research clearly shows how young passengers substantially increase a novice driver’s risk of being in a fatal crash.”

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers who are, mile for mile, involved in three times as many fatal collisions as drivers of other ages, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

‘Somewhat Unexpected’ Danger with Passengers in their 20s

In “somewhat unexpected” findings, the study reported that having passengers aged 20-29 significantly increased the prevalence of unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.

The study found that:

– Teenage drivers with no passengers sped 30 percent of the time, which increased to 44 percent when that driver had only passengers in their 20s.
– Without passengers, drivers drove without a valid license 9 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time with passengers aged 20-29.
– A teen driver with no passengers drove with blood alcohol content of 0.01 or above 13 percent of the time with no passengers, but did so 35 percent of the time when there were only passengers aged 20-29.

Compared with passengers ages 13-19, passengers in their 20s were just as dangerous, and sometimes more so, in encouraging bad habits behind the wheel. However, the presence of passengers aged 20-29 in vehicles driven by 16- or 17-year-olds “was very rare,” accounting for only 5 percent of all fatal crashes, according to the study.

Older Adults, Parents a Guiding Light

The presence of unsafe driving habits shrunk significantly with passengers aged 30 years old or over. For example, 30 percent of fatal crashes in the study involved speeding when there were no passengers; that rate was halved to 15 percent when all passengers were aged 30 years old or over. Also, going from having no passengers to having only 30-and-over passengers almost halved the rate of driving without a seatbelt, dropping from 33 percent for drivers with no passengers to 18 percent when all passengers were 30 years old or over.

“These low risk profiles seem to be indicative of more responsible driving when traveling with parents and other adults,” the study stated.

Parental influence has been highlighted in several other teen-related studies, including one released last month from Liberty Mutual that found that teenagers mirror their parents’ bad driving habits, despite the fact that their parents have told them to avoid such habits.

“What is surprising is how many kids do tell us, their parents, are following different driving rules than them,” said Glenn Greenberg, a Liberty Mutual spokesman.

The AAA study echoed the sentiment, saying that a top-to-bottom effort across the U.S. will be needed to keep teenagers safe while driving, according to AAA.

“These new findings underscore the need to refocus our efforts, to address the problem, from state legislatures to parents,” Kissinger said.

Study Says GDL Programs a Teen Safety Tool

As a part of those widespread efforts battling teen deaths behind the wheel, several studies have said that states’ graduated driver licensing programs (GDLs) have an integral part to play; this latest AAA statement trumpeted the same message.

“Graduated driver licensing programs have been shown to greatly reduce crashes, injuries and deaths for everyone on the road when they limit new teen drivers to no more than one passenger,” AAA president Robert Darbelnet said in the statement.

Generally, GDLs introduce new motorists to the road through gradual steps of driving privileges. However, each state has a separate set of rules governing their GDLs.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) introduced an “online calculator” this summer summarizing each state’s GDL program, while allowing users to adjust GDL provisions to show the number of roadway fatalities and crashes that teens could avoid if those provisions were strengthened or loosened.

For the IIHS, the prime GDL program would enforce a minimum permit age of 16 and a minimum intermediate license age of 17, require at least 65 hours of supervised driving, prohibit nighttime driving after 8 p.m. for intermediate drivers and ban all teen passengers.

Federal officials and legislators cheered this summer’s passage of the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II, also known as HR 4348, an omnibus bill that included the expansion of grants to states that strengthened their GDL programs. Insurance carriers like State Farm and Allstate were among those applauding the measure, which was signed by President Barack Obama on July 6.

“This legislation will provide incentives to states to ensure this research is fully considered in the establishment of their GDL standards,” Allstate president Thomas Wilson said in a statement, adding that GDL programs reduce teen-related roadway fatalities by up to 40 percent.

Until the nationwide push against teen driver fatalities makes significant progress, the fact remains that our youngest drivers are the riskiest for insurers. So any parent wondering how much insurance coverage costs for their 16-year-old will find that new drivers are typically charged more because of a lack of strong driving history and mounds of research, including the most recent from the AAA, strongly linking them to incidents that will yield pricey claims.

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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