Characteristics of Fatal Crashes Involving 16- and 17-Year-Old Drivers with Teenage Passengers

A companion study to Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers, this study investigates the characteristics of teen driver crashes involving teenage passengers in the vehicle.

October 2012

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

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

Authors

Allan F. Williams

Abstract

The data presented in this report can help states identify remaining targets of opportunity to prevent fatal crashes that involve teenage drivers with teenage passengers through refinements to their graduated driver licensing programs.

The Situation

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States
  • Recent AAA Foundation research found that risk of death in a crash for 16- and 17-year-old drivers increases by 44% when carrying one passenger younger than 21, doubles with two, and quadruples with three or more, compared with driving alone
  • Another AAA Foundation study found that potentially-distracting loud conversation and horseplay were substantially more common with multiple teens in the vehicle than with siblings or adult passengers
  • Most states have enacted passenger restrictions as part of graduated driver licensing systems, and studies indicate these limits reduce crashes

The Study:

  • Documents the proportion of fatal crashes of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in which passengers were present in relation to the age, sex, and number of passengers
  • Examines the characteristics of these crashes in relation to specific combinations of passengers
  • Provides state-by-state summary data [note: Virginia excluded from study due to lack of passenger-related data]
  • Utilizes data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) on fatal crashes occurring in years 2005-2010 that involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver of a passenger vehicle

Key Findings – Numbers Breakdown

  • 9,578 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes during the years 2005-2010 (3,667 16-year-olds; 5,911 17-year-olds; excluding Virginia)
    • 42% had at least one teen passenger (and no passengers of any other ages)
    • This proportion remained consistent over the study period, despite overall teen traffic fatality reductions, and the introduction or strengthening in numerous states of passenger restrictions for novice teen drivers in this time
  • Of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes who had teen passengers (and no passengers of other ages):
    • 56% had one passenger
    • 24% had two
    • 20% had three or more
  • Most often, the teen passengers were the same sex as the driver and within one year of the driver’s age

Key Findings: Characteristics of Crashes

  • Among fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers, several risk factors were generally more prevalent when teen passengers (ages 13-19) were present than when the driver was alone, and increased as the number of passengers increased. For example:
    • Prevalence of speeding increased from 30% to 44% and 48% with zero, two, and three or more teen passengers, respectively
    • Prevalence of late-night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) increased from 17% to 22% and 28% with zero, two, and three or more teen passengers, respectively
    • Prevalence of alcohol use increased from 13% to 17% and 18% with zero, two, and three or more teen passengers, respectively
  • All risk factors were more common among male drivers than females
  • Except for lack of valid license, all risk factors were least prevalent when an adult aged 30 or older was present in the vehicle, which suggests a protective influence that adults have on teen drivers when they ride as passengers

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

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

Authors

Allan F. Williams

Allan F. Williams LLC

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety