Study: Risky behaviors by teen drivers increase with more passengers in car

Montgomery Media

By Carl Hessler Jr.

chessler@journalregister.com

Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012

One year after Pennsylvania lawmakers set passenger limitations for them, research continues to support that risky behaviors among teen drivers increase when teen passengers are present.

According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the prevalence of risky behavior generally grew for 16- and 17-year-old drivers as the number of teen passengers increased. For example, among 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes, the prevalence of speeding increased from 30 percent with no passengers to 44 percent with two passengers and 48 percent with three or more teen passengers.

The incidence of late-night driving, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., also increased, from 17 percent with no passengers to 22 percent with two passengers and 28 percent with three or more teen passengers, according to the study. Alcohol use increased from 13 percent with no passengers to 17 percent with two passengers and 18 percent with three or more teen passengers, according to officials.

The findings were unveiled by AAA as part of Teen Driver Safety Week, which ran Oct. 14 to 20.

“Mixing young drivers with teen passengers remains a dominant fatal crash scenario,” said Theresa Podguski, director of public affairs for AAA East Penn Region in Allentown. “AAA urges parents to set and consistently enforce family rules that limit newly licensed teens from driving with young passengers.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed data on fatal crashes that occurred in the United States from 2005 through 2010. The report documented the prevalence of passengers ages 13-19 in fatal crashes involving drivers ages 16 and 17 and examined the characteristics of age, sex and number of teen passengers present. Researchers found that 9,578 drivers ages 16 and 17 were involved in fatal crashes and that 3,994 of those had at least one teen passenger in the vehicle at the time.

“Teen crashes remain a huge problem nationwide,” Podguski said. “The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 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.”

AAA recommends that all states adopt and enforce a comprehensive three-stage graduated license system for novice drivers. The programs should limit driving at night and the number of young passengers, among other provisions designed to help novice drivers gain the skills and experience associated with responsible driving behavior, Podguski said.

“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,” Podguski said. “Steps parents can take, such as setting and enforcing a parent-teen driving agreement, can build on state laws to improve safety by gradually easing teens into driving.”

After several years of debating teen driver issues, Pennsylvania legislators last year drafted new teen driving restrictions. House Bill 9 was signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in October 2011 and became law Dec. 27.

Specifically, the new law requires the following:

• During the first six months of being licensed, a teen driver can carry only one, non-family passenger who is younger than 18. After the first six months, the law restricts the number of passengers under 18 to three non-family members as long as the teenager has a clean driving record, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. If the junior driver has been involved in a reportable crash for which the junior driver is partially or fully responsible, the one-person passenger limit will apply until age 18.

• The bill also expands training requirements before a teenager can take a test for his or her license, specifically increasing behind-the-wheel training from the current 50 hours to 65 hours - 10 of those hours to be at night and five of those hours during inclement weather.

• Under the new law, it is a primary offense for any person to drive a vehicle with a passenger under 18 who isn’t wearing a seatbelt or isn’t properly restrained in a booster or car seat. That means a police officer can stop a vehicle if the officer suspects such a passenger isn’t buckled up or properly restrained. The law requires that children under the age of 8 must be fastened in a child restraint system.

When the changes were signed into law in October 2011, Pottstown area parents whose children died in teen car crashes praised it as the “present of life.” At the time, Karen Cantamaglia said her fight for such legislation was in memory of her son, Michael, 16, of Barto, and Andrew Case, 17, of Lower Pottsgrove, who were killed in a Nov. 23, 2009, crash on Route 724 in East Coventry. Marlene Case, Andrew’s mother, Richard Bouher, whose 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, was killed in a March 2008 Royersford crash and the parents of 18-year-old Lacey Gallagher, who was killed in an April 2007 crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a vehicle occupied by six teens, also were staunch supporters of the Pennsylvania legislation.

Michael Cantamaglia and Andrew Case were passengers in a 2005 Honda SUV operated by a 16-year-old driver who had just obtained his driver’s license.

Portions of the new law are known as “Lacey’s Law.”

The legislation was applauded by local chapters of AAA, the nation’s leading motoring group.

The most recent AAA study built on a AAA Foundation report released in May that showed how risk of death in a traffic crash for 16- and 17-year-old drivers increased by 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than age 21, doubled with two and quadrupled with three or more younger passengers, compared with driving alone. A previous study by the AAA Foundation found that potentially distracting loud conversation and horseplay were substantially more common with multiple teenage passengers in the vehicle than with siblings or adult passengers.

AAA has a wide range of tools available at
TeenDriving.AAA.com to help parents simplify the learning-to-drive process including free 90-minute Dare to Prepare workshops for parents and their pre-permit teens.

The East Penn Region of AAA East Central, an affiliate of AAA and the Pennsylvania AAA Federation, has more than 280,000 members throughout its service area which takes in all of Lehigh County and parts of Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Montgomery and Northampton counties.

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