Study: Teen drivers more at risk when driving with fellow teens

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Chelsea Patterson, left, and Brook McKee, Hunter High School seniors, talk after having lunch off campus in West Valley City on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — The two Hunter High School seniors were driving less than a block, but passenger Chelsea Patterson was keeping an eye out for driver Brook McKee seated next to her.

McKee had flipped on her turn signal and was waiting to turn left when Patterson leaned  forward.

"I thought you were going to go, and I was like, 'Whoa,'" she explained to her friend.

But Patterson, 18, feels safe with McKee. She doesn't like to drive and especially hates driving others, but she rode with McKee and friend Kahai Brock to lunch at Brock's house.

"For me, personally, when I have my friends, I take more care because I want to protect their lives," said McKee, 18. "When I have someone in my car, I'm definitely more careful. I don't want to be responsible for their lives, and I don't want us hurt — any of us."

McKee said she designates someone to handle the radio and tries to focus on the road instead of the people in her car. She said she tries to listen to the conversation but concentrates on driving because, "It's kind of a worry for me."

According to a study recently released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, McKee and Patterson's diligence and concerns about teenage passengers are warranted. The study showed that for 16- and 17-year-old drivers, having a fellow teenager in the car can increase risky behaviors, such as speeding, late-night driving and neglecting to use a seat belt.

For example, the study showed that a 16- or 17-year-old driver whose likelihood of speeding is 30 percent when driving alone will jump to a 44 percent chance while transporting two passengers and 48 percent when transporting three or more passengers.

Of the 9,578 fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers that occurred nationwide between 2005 and 2010, 57 percent involved at least one passenger.

"What we know is that passengers in a car with a new driver are very, very serious," AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough said. "If you think about it, you … have a new driver whose skill sets are really lacking. It's a new driver who is still not a great driver, and it's difficult for them to manage driving their car and (working) with distraction."

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teenagers, and teenage drivers "are involved in more crashes per mile driven than drivers of any other age group," the study said.

Just last year, two students at Hunter High School were killed and two others injured when the car they were riding in collided with another vehicle at 4100 South and 5600 West.

The group of four was leaving the school for lunch around 12:15 p.m. May 9 when the crash occurred, killing students Jacob Armijo and Avery Bock, both 16. The driver of the other vehicle sustained serious injuries but survived.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said that, technically, all of the district's schools have closed campuses, but students often leave for lunch and additional classes and programs.

"We recognize our kids leave campus," Horsley said. "It's not even a policy. We just encourage our kids to stay on campus unless they have a reason to leave (for) myriad safety reasons.

He said Armijo, who was driving, was doing so erratically and at a high rate of speed at the time of the crash. If the student hadn't been on the road, the accident would have been avoided, Horsley said.

McKee said she doesn't like driving around other teenagers, "especially in the school parking lot, because they don't care who's around."

Brock said, in her experience, boys tend to drive more recklessly.

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