Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teen Passenger Risk Increases While Traffic Deaths Continue to Drop, Report Says

From AASHTO Journal 
While the number of fatalities from traffic incidents has been decreasing over the last decade, a study released Thursday by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) shows that the fatal crash risk for teens with passengers has grown during that same decade.

TTI's report, "Are Teens Safer on the Road than They Were 10 Years Ago? Yes and No," presents national data on fatal crashes in which teens (age 13-17) were present. The report's researchers then compared patterns for novice drivers with young adult drivers (age 18-24) to come up with a "relative risk index." TTI found that the risk for novice drivers with a single teen passenger increased over the last 10 years from 3.7 to 5.1 (so drivers in 2011 were more than five times more likely to have a fatal crash as compared to young adult drivers). When novice drivers carry two or more passengers, the "teen passenger fatal crash connection" was 7.7, up from 5.9 just 10 years ago (or almost eight times as likely to experience a fatal crash incident as compared to young adults).

The report's authors said there are many reasons for this increase, including the overall lack of experience, the learning curve associated with driving, the lack of understanding the consequences of these fatal crashes, and distracted driving behaviors.

"Total teen fatal crashes per year declined, but the relative risk for young drivers carrying teen passengers actually increased substantially—at this same time, text messaging exploded in American society," said Russell Henk, TTI senior research engineer and primary author of the study, in a statement. "We can't scientifically state that there's a direct link between those two things yet, but it seems reasonable to suspect a connection."

To combat this increase, states are cracking down on some of the factors that could be responsible for the jump. States have strengthened their graduated driver license laws, which limit risk exposure for young drivers through the prohibition of late-night driving or limiting the number of young passengers allowed in their vehicles.

TTI's full 15-page report is available here.