Teen drivers: Too many passengers may increase accident risk

Distracted driving is a prevalent problem among California teenagers, and many adults imagine that technology is a top source of distraction. However, statistics suggest that the role passengers – especially other teenagers – can play in car accidents should not be overlooked. A tragic accident recently highlighted the accident risk that teen drivers and their young passengers face.

The incident occurred early on a Saturday morning when a 16-year old drove off I-5 and into an embankment. The crash claimed the lives of five passengers, who were all teenagers from South County, according to the California Register. The driver did not have a license, so inexperience may have contributed to the crash. Research indicates that a large number of young passengers may also have been a factor.

Excessive distraction

California’s graduated driver licensing laws don’t allow teens younger than 18 to drive unsupervised in their vehicles with passengers who are under age 20. This restriction may have life-saving effects. Research has established that when teenagers drive with other teenagers, everyone in the vehicle may be at risk, as the following findings reveal:

  • According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, out of all the teenagers killed in fatal car accidents, about 54 percent lose their lives when other teenagers are driving.
  • A 16- or 17-year old driver is 44 percent more likely to die in a car accident if he or she has a teenage passenger, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
  • With two teenage passengers, the same driver is twice as likely to crash; with a third teen passenger added, accident risk increases threefold.

A study from the University of North Carolina found that distraction due to passengers is more likely to cause a car accident than eating, reaching for objects, texting or using a phone. Researchers theorized that things young drivers cannot control are more likely to cause accidents than intentional actions. The presence of passengers creates random distractions, adding to the information the driver must process.

The same study, which used in-vehicle recording devices to observe participants, found that horseplay in the vehicle tripled the risk of a serious incident. Surprisingly, the loud conversation was even more distracting, increasing the likelihood of a serious incident six times. This second finding shows that even fairly reasonable and normal behavior on the part of passengers may be too distracting for inexperienced drivers.

Recourse for accidents

California’s graduated driver licensing laws are designed to reduce the risk of young drivers experiencing needless accidents. Still, as the recent accident illustrated, teenage drivers sometimes make choices that put their passengers and even other drivers in danger.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident involving a teenager or other inexperienced driver, please consider meeting with an attorney to go over your legal options.