Passengers May Have A Lethal Effect On Teen Drivers
March 21, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Teen-agers, for the most part, are very social
creatures. They like to congregate -- on corners, in cafeterias, and in cars.
But when it comes to packing a car with friends, the more, the deadlier,
according to a new study.
"The more passengers there were [in the car], the higher the death rates
for 16- and 17-year-old drivers," Li-Hui Chen, PhD, the lead researcher on
the study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, tells
Chen writes in the March 22 issue of TheJournal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA) that "motor vehicle crashes are the
leading cause of death among teen-agers in the United States and carrying
passengers has been identified as a possible risk factor for these
One way states are trying to deal with the high death rate among teens is by
instituting graduated licensing systems. Essentially, this means new drivers
must go through three stages before they earn a full-privilege license. Within
each of those stages, certain restrictions may be placed on the young driver,
depending on the state.
"There are about 24 states who have graduated licensing systems, and
only nine of them have any restriction on passengers ... and I think both are
needed," Chen tells WebMD. Even among those nine states (California,
Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and
Wisconsin), the restrictions have wide variations, with some specifying the
number of passengers but not their ages.
The researchers examined government statistics from 1992 to 1997, identified
crashes in which 16- and 17-year-old drivers were killed, then scrutinized
characteristics of the drivers and their passengers. Driver age and sex, the
number of passengers, passenger age and sex, and the time of day of the
accident all were considered.
The researchers found that the rate of deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers
increased dramatically with the number of passengers they had in the car. The
highest rate was among 16-year-olds with more than three passengers, 5.61
deaths per 10 million trips. For drivers with one passenger, the rate dropped
to 2.76, and when the driver was alone in the car, the rate fell to 1.99 deaths
per 10 million trips.
Carrying passengers ages 13 to 19 or 20 to 29 was associated with
significantly higher rates of driver death, but having passengers over 30 did
not increase driver fatality rates. In addition, a comparison group of drivers
aged 30 to 59 actually had slightly lower death rates when passengers
were in the car.
Male drivers had more deaths than female drivers, regardless of the number
of passengers. Driver deaths per 1,000 crashes more than doubled for both male
and female drivers when there were two or more male passengers in the car, and
nearly doubled with one male passenger.