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Teen Driving Most Risky With Teen Passengers

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June 1, 2001- Everyone knows that teenagers may take risks when placed behind the wheel of a car. Now new research shows that 16 and 17-year-olds are a particular danger to themselves and others when driving with teen passengers.

"The risks of getting involved in fatal [car] crashes are much higher when teenage drivers have passengers," researcher Elisa R. Braver, PhD, tells WebMD. "The added risk associated with carrying passengers is thought to be due to driver distraction and increased risk-taking behavior, such as speeding or showing off."

Braver says that 16 and 17-years-olds not only have the highest crash rates, they also have a much higher risk of dying in crashes. "Of all motor vehicle occupant deaths among teenagers, 46% are passengers at the times of their fatal crashes," she says. "Almost two-thirds of these teen passenger deaths occur when other teenagers are driving." Braver is a senior epidemiologist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. and co-author of the research, which appears in the journal Injury Prevention.

Another author, Li-Hui Chen, PhD, tells WebMD that the research team published a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association last year about the risk of carrying passengers for teenage drivers. "In that study, we found the risk of death for 16 or 17-year-old drivers increased with the number of passengers. [However], the only thing we considered was driver deaths."

Chen says that from a policy viewpoint, it is important to know whether teenage drivers traveling with passengers will increase the number of deaths of not only the drivers, but also passengers and any other people involved in the crash. Chen is an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Injury Research and Policy.

In this light, the investigators examined what effect passenger restrictions on teenage drivers might have for everyone on the road, including cyclists, pedestrians, and occupants of other vehicles. They studied data obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration about fatal crashes and travel patterns on U.S. public roads.

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