Passengers Jeopardize Teen Drivers' Safety

By Kristin Varela  on February 6, 2012

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There are many scary moments when raising kids such as the first time we leave them alone with a baby sitter, their first day at school and the first time they ride their bikes or get sick. But without a doubt, the scariest moment of all is when our children — teenagers — start driving.

There's so much attention paid to the dangers of texting and driving, yet we overlook the most dangerous distraction of all for teen drivers: friends riding in the car. Studies show that teens driving with peer passengers have a significantly higher risk for fatal crashes than those who drive alone; putting a teen in the passenger's seat of a young driver's car doubles the risk of a fatal crash, while adding three or more teen passengers to a car quadruples the risk. A recent study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm expands upon that initial research.

The most astounding findings were:

  • Teens who are most likely to drive with multiple passengers considered themselves to be "thrill-seekers" and perceived their parents as not setting rules or monitoring their whereabouts.
  • Only 10% of teens correctly view passengers as potentially hazardous.
  • Amongst teens who said they were distracted by something inside the car before they crashed, 71% of males and 47% of females said they were distracted directly by their passengers' actions.

While advancing technology is providing us with new tools to help keep our teen drivers safe, none address the serious problem that additional passengers can cause.

I used to own a Volvo C30. It could sense if someone was sitting in any of the seats and would notify me, the driver, if the passengers didn't have their seat belts on. It seems logical that a carmaker could combine that occupancy sensor technology with current systems like Hyundai's Blue Link Essentials program or Ford's MyKey — both allow parents to set limits on teen drivers — to notify parents if their teen driver has passengers in the car, or even go a step further to prevent the car from being driven if there are passengers in it.

My husband and I are lucky to still be a few years away from our kids starting to drive (our oldest is 11 going on 16), and we're hopeful that this and many additional tools will be available as manufacturers strive to make all cars safer but especially those driven by teenagers.

What systems have you and your family implemented to keep your teen drivers safe? Do you have a driving contract with your teen? Do you use aftermarket technology or GPS-enabled smartphone applications to monitor your teen's driving habits? Tell us in the comment section below.


Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin


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