Editorial: The distraction friends add to teen driving
The power of peer pressure among teenagers is well documented, and even if it weren't, any parent could attest to it.
It many respects, this is to be celebrated. Though the post-puberty years can be a challenging time of stress and adjustment for teen and parent alike, this shift in focus — from inside the house to outside — is a natural and essential part of the transition from child to adult.
We certainly can't get into all of the implications in one short editorial. Books could be written about this passage in life (and in fact, hundreds have been!)
But for today, let's talk about driving. There are few scarier periods for a parent than the time a teenage child gets behind the wheel.
And there is good cause for that dread.
Statistics show, alarmingly and without room for debate, that teenagers are the most dangerous drivers on the road, particularly in the first year of driving. They are almost four times more likely to be involved in a car crash than older drivers.
There are a lot of reasons for that, and certainly simple inexperience is a significant one.
One that's received comparatively little attention until recently is the significant added risk that is provided when other teens are in the car.
A study released earlier this month by the Automobile Association of America's Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that teens driving with their friends are much more likely to be involved in a crash than a teen driving alone or with an adult.
The study showed that, compared to driving alone, a 16- or 17-year-old driver's risk of dying in a car crash increases by 44 percent if a passenger younger than 20 is in the car, doubles if two passengers younger than 20 are in the car and quadruples if three or more passengers younger than 20 are in the car.
Meanwhile, the study said that the risk of the teen driver dying in a crash decreases by 62 percent if a passenger older than 34 is in the car.
Some of this may be related to taking dares or showing off and some may be related to being too embarrassed to acknowledge uncertainty in driving skills, but experts think most of it is related simply to the increase in distraction provided by other friends in the car.
Illinois recognizes this distraction and limits the number of teenage passengers in the car to one until the driver turns 18 (in most cases), but even that restriction ought to be studied to see whether it goes far enough. Multiple siblings are allowed in the car, for example.
Beyond that, the onus is on the teen drivers themselves to be acutely aware of the real danger provided by even seemingly innocent distractions by friends.
Responsible passengers need to be acutely aware of it too.
And of course, parents must be on guard for it — to both educate their children about the dangers, model responsible behavior and set reasonable but firm rules.
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