Driving with a car full of friends may seem like fun, but a new study shows it also ramps up driving distractions and crash risks for teens.
Teens were more likely to be involved in some form of distracted driving before a serious crash when they drove with other teens compared with driving alone, according to a study published in January 2012 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers analyzed a survey taken from 2005 through 2007 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of 677 teen drivers ages 16 to 18.
The analysis showed that teen boys driving with teen passengers were more likely to perform a risky maneuver just before crashing compared with teen boys driving alone. Teen girls driving with passengers before crashing often were engaged in at least one non-driving activity, aside from talking with other passengers, such as eating or texting.
Risky behavior while driving contributes to the high rate of car crashes in drivers between 15 and 20 years old. In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of death for this age group, according to the federal traffic safety agency.
If a teen driver is on his parents' auto insurance policy or has his own policy, the premiums can easily double. Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania, says:"The amount of the increase varies depending on the specifics of the accident."
At-fault accidents for teens boost auto insurance premiums by hundreds of dollars for the first mishap and can approach $1,000 or more for subsequent accidents, says David Miller, CEO of Brightway Insurance in Florida.
The good news is that teenagers can earn discounts for successfully completing an approved driver's education program and for maintaining good grades. Typically, auto insurers give a discount of about 10 percent for driver's education graduates and a discount of 15 percent to 25 percent for students who post good grades, Miller says.
Teen driving restrictions
The increased risk of crashing among teens motivates states to impose driving curfews and passenger limits for teen motorists. On its website, the Governors Highway Safety Association lists the laws in each state.
For example, Texas doesn’t allow drivers ages 15 to 17 to drive between midnight and 5 a.m., and limits those drivers to just one passenger. California bans driving for teens ages 15 1/2 to 17 from 11 p.m. to5 a.m., and prohibits passengers -- aside from an adult companion -- for a driver's first 12 months. North Carolina bans driving for teens 15 to 16 1/2 between 9 p.m. and5 a.m.and forbids passengers for drivers under 21 aside from a family member.
Inexperience trumps safety
Most teens realize the dangers inherent with driving, says Allison Curry, a director at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead researcher in the study. "They have very high perceptions of risk when it comes to driving," she says, "and most teens have strong safety beliefs."
Of course, Curry says, teens are inexperienced behind the wheel. "It takes time for them to acquire some of the critical skills needed to be a safe driver, including the ability to properly detect and respond to hazards on the road," she says.
Curry recommends that parents monitor their teens' driving for their first year, limit the number of passengers and develop clear rules about carrying other teen passengers, especially during the first six months of unsupervised driving.
"All teens need extra support and monitoring to help keep them safe when driving," Curry says.
Parents also need to set a good example themselves. A 2011 survey by State Farm showed that 61 percent of teens say parents have been distracted at least once by a cellphone while on practice drives together. More than half of the teens' parents admitted doing so.
"Teens need their parents' time and attention during the learner's permit phase in order to get at least 50 hours of supervised practice driving," Curry says. Minimum requirements for supervised driving vary from state to state.
Teens need to understand that their parents' rules are about safety, not control, Curry says.