Young Passengers and Texting Spell Danger for Teen Drivers.

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Young Passengers and Texting Spell Danger for Teen Drivers

Do teenage drivers operate vehicles less safely when other teens are in the car? A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found a "strong association" between the number and age of passengers and the risk of a teenage driver dying in a crash.

Based upon miles driven, the likelihood of a young (age 16-17) driver being killed in a crash increases with each additional passenger, according to the AAA report. Compared to driving with no passengers, the driver's fatality risk rises 44 percent when accompanied by one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers). Two young passengers doubles that risk, and carrying three or more youthful friends quadruples the danger.

Having an adult present lowers the risk. Specifically, the presence of a passenger who's 35 or older reduces a teen driver's death risk by 62 percent. Risk of involvement in a police-reported crash sinks by 46 percent.

AAA urges parents to be aware of their states's graduated teen driver licensing system. "Even if the law doesn't set a passenger limit," AAA advises, "parents can."

Texting while driving is another high-risk activity. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, 8 out of 10 drivers age 16-21 agreed that texting, using smart-phone apps, or accessing the Internet while behind the wheel is dangerous. Yet, 29 percent of those respondents admitted to texting during the past month. Furthermore, while 63 percent agreed that making a phone call without using a headset is dangerous, 47 percent acknowledged having done so.

Asked why they had reduced or ceased distracted driving, 61 percent cited hearing about the dangers of such activities. Laws banning cell phone use and/or texting in cars influenced 40 percent of young drivers, while 28 percent had been urged to do so by family members. Nearly one out of five respondents knew someone who'd been in a crash caused by distracted driving.

In this instance, peers in the car might be helpful. Nearly half of those who'd driven with friends said they were less likely to talk on a handheld phone or text when accompanied. Close to half said they had personally asked another driver to stop using a phone.

Asked about their observations of other youthful drivers, 84 percent said they had seen other young people talking on a handheld phone, and 71 percent had observed a peer texting. Parents aren't necessarily setting a good example, either. Nearly half (48 percent) of teens said they'd witnessed a parent talking on a handheld phone while driving, and 15 percent of parents were guilty of texting.

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