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Study: teen drivers at greater risk when passengers are also teens

It's something parents seem to have always known: teenage drivers are at greater risk of a fatal car accident when accompanied in the car by teens rather than an adult. Now a study by AAA's safety foundation confirms it.

Researchers have in the past looked into the factors that put teen drivers at risk, but there hadn't been a major study of teen drivers and passengers since all states adopted graduated licensing laws, beginning in the 1990s.

Here in Wisconsin, teens aged 15 years and six months or above can apply for an instruction permit that comes with restrictions, including that they must be accompanied by an experienced driver (someone with at least two years of licensed experience). That experienced driver must be an instructor, parent, guardian or spouse who is at least 19 years old.

If the teen with the instruction permit wants to drive when it's dark outside, that qualified, experienced driver must be at least 25 years or older.

Why have states gone to graduated driver's licenses? The answer lies, in part, in the results of AAA's study of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.

A 16- or 17-year-old driver's chances of being killed in a car accident drop by 62 percent when they have a passenger age 35 or older in the vehicle.

If that same 16- or 17-year-old driver is accompanied by a passenger younger than 21 -- with no adult in the car -- the study found that the risk of a fatal crash rose 44 percent.

Put two passengers under 21 in the car (again, with no adult present) and the risk increases by 100 percent. Three or more such passengers? The risk of a fatal wreck is quadrupled.

Source: Associated Press, "Study: A teenage driver's risk of dying in a crash goes up sharply with other teens in the car," May 8, 2012

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