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The biggest danger to teen drivers is teen passengers

Distracted driving presents a serious risk to the person driving and anyone who shares the road with them. This is especially true for teen drivers, who are more likely to engage in risky and distracting behaviors.

Although texting while driving is rampant among young drivers, research shows that the No. 1 distraction for teen drivers is ... other teenagers in the car.

So many distractions for young drivers

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 6 out 10 teen crashes are caused by driver distractions:

  • 15 percent - Interacting with passengers
  • 12 percent - Using a cellphone (texting, talking, selfies, etc.)
  • 10 percent - Distractions in the vehicle (radio, pets, food, etc.)
  • 9 percent - Distractions outside the vehicle
  • 8 percent - Singing and dancing while driving
  • 6 percent - Grooming (hair and makeup)
  • 6 percent - Reaching for something

Cellphone use should not be underestimated as a cause of distracted driver accidents. Teens take their eyes off the road for several seconds, causing them to veer off the road or into an oncoming lane. In half of rear-end crashes, teens on phones failed to react before impact.

Other teens in the car is a recipe for danger

Riding with peers is the biggest distraction for youths. When teen drivers are transporting teen passengers, fatalities increased 45 percent for the teen drivers and 56 percent for occupants of other vehicles. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are also 17 percent higher when teen drivers have their friends on board.

Why is riding with other teens so dangerous?

  • They divert their eyes from the road to engage with passengers.
  • Their mental focus is divided even if they are looking straight ahead.
  • They are relaxed and having fun -- their guard is down.
  • Peers do distracting things.
  • Teens are more likely to speed and engage in other risky driving behaviors with their friends on board.

Research shows that each additional teenager in the car increases the danger exponentially. In other words, one teen friend is risky enough, but three more in the back seat is asking for trouble.

Teen drivers need more behind-the-wheel experience

The AAA Foundation recommends that teenagers have 100 hours behind the wheel before the drive solo. Most driver's education programs do not require that much practice driving. But any experience is beneficial; the more hours the better. Experts also strongly recommend that parents continue to drive with their teens after they get their license. The risk of fatality actually decreases when a parent or other adult rides along with a new driver.

Under New York law, junior drivers (under the age of 18) are allowed only one passenger who is under the age of 21, unless the additional passengers are immediate family members. Parents should strictly enforce this rule. As much fun as it is to ride with a carload of friends, it's just not safe.

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