Parents told: don’t let teens drive with friends

Parents are being encouraged to restrict their teen from carrying friends when driving, on the back of two new studies into how peer passengers distract teen drivers.

Teen passengers

Image by Cha gia Jose, Flickr

The first study has identified which teens are likely to drive with multiple friends. These drivers shared the following characteristics:

  • considered themselves ‘thrill-seekers’
  • perceived their parents as not setting rules or monitoring their whereabouts
  • possessed a weak perception of the risks associated with driving in general.

A second study has identified how those passengers may contribute to crashes by distracting the driver and promoting risky driving behaviors, such as speeding, tailgating, or weaving.

“Both male and female teen drivers with peer passengers were more likely to be distracted just before a crash as compared to teens who crashed while driving alone,” explained the study’s author, Dr Allison Curry, a director at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

“Among the teens who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before they crashed, 71 percent of males and 47 percent of females said they were distracted directly by the actions of their passengers.”

Additionally, the researchers found:

  • males with passengers were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal manoeuvre and more than twice as likely to drive aggressively just before a crash, as compared to males driving alone.
  • females rarely drove aggressively prior to a crash, regardless of whether they had passengers in the car.

The findings lend weight to laws restricting the number of passengers for teens on probationary licences. Such laws are already in place in some states of Australia. Victoria is the strictest, with holders of the P1 (first year of the provisional licence) allowed to carry no more than one passenger aged between 16 and 21 years old at any time. Several Australian states, however, have no such restrictions.

“Some teens may not realise how passengers can directly affect their driving,” said Dr Jessica Mirman, study author and a behavioural researcher. “Teen passengers can intentionally and unintentionally encourage unsafe driving. Because it can be difficult for new drivers to navigate the rules of the road and manage passengers, it’s best to keep the number of passengers to a minimum for the first year.”

The studies’ authors also emphasised the important role parents play in supporting safe driving among teens and their passengers. They recommend parents set rules around the carrying of teen passengers (particularly where there is no law governing this factor).

“It’s critical that parents stay involved in their teens’ driving beyond the learner permit phase. This includes continuing to monitor their driving activities and to review ways teens can be safe drivers and passengers,” said Chris Mullen, research director at State Farm. “Combined with laws that limit passengers for the first year of driving, involved parents are an effective strategy to protect teens from a dangerous and preventable crash risk – driving with their friends.”

These studies were conducted by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm® and were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Read press release here.





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