Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers

This study investigates how teen drivers' crash risk changes when they are carrying passengers compared with driving by themselves in relation to the number of passengers in the car and the ages of the passengers.

May 2012

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

Allan F. Williams

Jurek G. Grabowski

Abstract

Although the overall number of teen driver fatalities has decreased substantially over the past several years, carrying young passengers is still a significant risk factor for young drivers. In contrast, carrying adult passengers significantly reduces the risks of crash involvement.

The Situation

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States
  • Teen crash rates are nearly four times higher than those of adult drivers
  • Carrying passengers, particularly other teens, greatly increases crash risk for teen drivers
  • Most states have enacted passenger restrictions as part of graduated driver licensing systems, and studies indicate that passenger restrictions do reduce crashes
  • Data used to examine teen crashes involving passengers are over a decade old

New Study: Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers

  • Provides new data on the relationship between the number and age(s) of passengers present and the crash risk of 16- and 17-year-old drivers
  • Uses data from teen crashes that occurred in years 2007-2010 and the number of miles driven in years 2008-2009, to calculate risk of crash involvement and driver death per mile driven
  • Estimates crash risk for 16- and 17-year-old drivers with no passengers; with one, two, and three or more passengers younger than 21 (and none older); and with at least one passenger 35 or older

Key Findings

  • Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven:
    • Increases 44% when carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
    • Doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
    • Quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)
    • Decreases 62% when a passenger aged 35 or older is in the vehicle
  • The risk of a 16- or 17-year old driver being involved in a police-reported crash of any severity appeared to follow a similar pattern, but the risk increases were not statistically significant. (The risk decrease associated with carrying an adult passenger was significant, however.)
  • Between 2000 and 2010 the annual number of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes fell by 53%; however, carrying passengers is still a significant risk factor for this age group
    • Of the 2,191 16- and 17-year-old drivers killed over the study period, nearly 40% had at least one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers) in the vehicle
  • Risks were significantly reduced when an adult passenger (aged 35 and older) was present in the vehicle

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Allan F. Williams

Allan F. Williams LLC

Jurek G. Grabowski

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety