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

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

"There's a huge difference between boys and girls," she said, as a car accelerated and gunned its engine. "That was a boy."

"It's part of the masculine thing," sophomore Eric Gray said, conceding that male drivers aren't above showboating but noting that all teenage drivers can be pretty bad. "Teen drivers are the worst. They're inexperienced. They have their phones, music, texts. They're more distracted."

Hunter High sophomore Neissa Dumas said she also has seen boys "drive crazier" when they have friends in the car in order to impress them. Those same drivers seem safer when solo, she said.

"When you get to drive alone, you focus more," Dumas said. "If you drive with friends, you won't focus on the rules."

The opportunity to learn and have these rules reinforced are among the reasons Utah has graduated driver's license laws, said Jenny Johnson, of the Utah Department of Health's Violence and Injury Prevention Program.

The laws prohibit drivers from transporting anyone other than immediate family members for the first six months after they have received their license and prevent driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for 16-year-old drivers unless it's an emergency.

Law enforcement officers also can pull over someone under the age of 19 for no other reason than not wearing a seat belt.

"Graduated driver's license laws can have a positive impact on this," Johnson said. "We're talking about young people. They shouldn't be dying. Most of these crashes are preventable. A lot of them are due to inexperience or poor driving experience that can be prevented."

Since the laws were implemented in 1999, Utah has seen a 61 percent decrease in fatal accidents, she said.

Since 2007, when numerous state agencies combined to tackle the issue of teenage driving deaths though the Zero Fatalities and Don't Drive Stupid campaigns, the numbers have decreased by another 42 percent.

In 2008, 29 teenagers died on Utah's roads. In 2010, it was 25. When the 2011 numbers are released next week, they are anticipated to be slightly lower still.

Still, there is progress to be made.

"Seventy-five percent of the teens who were killed in 2011 were not wearing a seat belt, and that is just pretty shocking," Johnson said. 

Parents are a crucial part of the equation, she said, and some school districts are already trying to involve parents in their child's driver's education programs.

The importance of parents was emphatically reiterated by Fairclough, who said parents need to step in where the laws do not.

"Ultimately, parents make the rules on how cars are driven," she said. "The no-passenger (law) is for six months after a young person gets their license, but it's in a parent's best interest to keep monitoring their child's driving and see if they are becoming better drivers. They need to keep this as a continual project to make sure these young drivers become the best drivers they can."

Parents can make and enforce house driving rules about passengers and coordinate and work with the parents of their children's friends to ensure that safe practices are implemented by young drivers, Fairclough said.

She also suggested presenting teenagers with various situations they could be in while driving or riding with friends so they know how to handle them.

"It's always good to empower your children with possible scenarios," Fairclough said. "You just want to make sure you safeguard those first few years of driving so these children can enhance their skills and become good, safe drivers."

Teen driving by the numbers

• Though the total number of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes each year decreased by 44 percent from 2,006 in 2005 to 1,124 in 2010, the proportion of accidents involving teenage passengers was fairly constant over the six-year period, ranging from 41 percent to 43 percent. 

• Overall, 16-year-old boys were the most likely to have had teenage passengers in the vehicle at the time of a crash, at 46 percent; 17-year-old girls were the least likely at 35 percent. At both ages, boys were more likely than girls to have been carrying teenage passengers.

• The prevalence of late-night driving — spanning 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. — increased from 17 percent with no passengers, to 22 percent with two passengers, and 28 percent with three or more passengers.

• The likelihood of alcohol use also increased from 13 percent when driving alone to 18 percent when driving with three or more passengers.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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