Risky business: Teens driving with other teens

Teenagers engage in a variety of risky behaviors while driving: chatting on their cellphones, texting and speeding, among them. But two new studies add to the evidence that one of the riskiest practices is just having another teen in the car.

The studies, conducted by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance, not only showed that having another teen in the car is dangerous, they identified why.

The first study found that teens who drive with multiple passengers in the car share certain characteristics: They consider themselves thrill-seekers, felt that their parents did not set strict rules or monitor their whereabouts and were not very aware of the risks associated with driving.

"The good news is that that these teens make up the minority," said Jessica Mirman, a behavioral researcher and one of the study's authors. "Teens in this study generally reported strong perceptions of the risks of driving, low frequencies of driving with multiple passengers and strong beliefs that their parents monitored their behavior and set rules."

The second study interviewed teens who had been involved in  serious crashes to determine what their behavior was just before the wreck.

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More teenagers -- both male and female -- said they had been distracted or engaged in risky behavior just prior to the crash when there were teen passengers in the car.

"Both male and female teen drivers with peer passengers were more likely to be distracted just before a crash as compared to teens who crashed while driving alone,"  said Allison Curry, director of epidemiology at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention. "Among the teens who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before they crashed, 71 percent of males and 47 percent of females said they were distracted directly by the actions of their passengers."

The study also uncovered a drastic difference in the behavior of male and female teen drivers: Males with passengers in the car were six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and more the twice as likely to drive aggressively compared to when they were driving alone. Female drivers rarely drove aggressively before a crash, whether they had passengers in the car or not.

The study's authors said it is incumbent on parents to promote safe behavior by young drivers.

"It's critical that parents stay involved in their teens' driving beyond the learner permit phase," said Chris Mullen, research director at State Farm. "This includes continuing to monitor their driving activities and to review ways teens can be safe drivers and passengers."

In response to previous studies, Georgia and many other states have adopted restrictions on teens driving with other passengers in the car.

Under Georgia law:

-- During the first six-month period after getting a license, a teen cannot drive with any other passenger in the vehicle who is not a member of the driver's immediate family.

-- During the second six months, a teen cannot drive when more than one other passenger in the vehicle (who is not a member of the driver’s immediate family) is less than 21 years of age.

-- After the second six-month period, teens are prohibited from driving when more than three other passengers in the vehicle (who are not members of the driver’s immediate family) are less than 21 years of age.

The restrictions are lifted when drivers turn 18 if they have had no major traffic convictions in the last 12 months.

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