By Ashley Halsey III, September 26, 2013
A study released Thursday shows that 15- to 17-year-old drivers are
almost eight times more likely to get into a fatal accident while
carrying two or more teenage passengers.
WASHINGTON — When a novice teen driver dies in a crash,
odds increasingly are that there is another teenager in the car, new
For more than a decade, states have been imposing
restrictions on teenage drivers that likely deserve credit for an
overall decline in teenage traffic fatalities. But a study released
Thursday shows that 15- to 17-year-old drivers are almost eight times
more likely to get into a fatal accident while carrying two or more
The analysis of 10 years of national traffic
data notes that the 30 percent increase in deaths when other teens are
present came at “the same time text messaging exploded in American
“We can’t scientifically state that there’s a direct link between
these two things yet, but it seems reasonable to suspect a connection,”
said Russell Henk, a researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation
Institute (TTI) who wrote the study.
Drivers age 19 and under are
three times more likely to die in accidents, and traffic fatalities are
the leading cause of death in that age group.
From 2002 to 2011,
the number of novice teenage drivers in fatal accidents dropped by 60
percent, but the percentage of fatalities that occurred when other
teenagers were in the vehicle increased each year.
The District of Columbia and 47 states have adopted graduated
licensing programs that put specific requirements on teenage drivers,
including a restriction on the number of passengers they can carry. All
states except Vermont and Nevada limit teen driving overnight.
for example, permits no passengers under age 18 for the first year.
Maryland allows no passengers under the age of 18 for the first five
months. All three Washington area jurisdictions ban cellphone use by
novice teenage drivers, as do 35 other states, and texting by all
drivers is outlawed in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The graduated licensing schemes lift restrictions as drivers age and
gain experience, an approach born out by the study’s comparison of 15-
to 17-year-olds with drivers in the next age group, 18 to 24. While
deaths with teen passengers on board increased each year among the
younger group, it declined over 10 years in the older group.
drivers (15 to 17 years old) are at a distinct disadvantage, not only
because of their limited driving experience, but also because of their
incomplete brain development,” the TTI study says. “Research has found
that the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the region
responsible for weighing the consequences of risky behavior —
is the last part of the brain to develop.”
Less capable of correctly assessing risk, those teenagers are
more easily distracted and more likely to take risks when other
teenagers are in the vehicle, the report said.