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Passengers Often the Worst Distraction for Teen Drivers

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This LiveScience.com summary of a  just-published report from University of North Carolina Center for the Study of Young Drivers is worth quoting at length:

Teen drivers … were six times more likely to have a serious driving incident — such as a collision, near collision, or loss of control — when there was a loud conversation in the car, compared to when there were no loud conversations.

And teens were about twice as likely to need to stop or slow the car quickly (hard braking) when there were rowdy passengers, compared to when there were no rowdy passengers.

Further, researchers determined that while drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were more likely to text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel than they were to transport unruly friends or relatives, the more-frequent distractions led to fewer wrecks and near misses.

The center’s website presents statistics showing that traffic accidents kill more teenagers than any other two causes combined. The combined effects of inexperience and impulsiveness — lack of respect for the consequences of unsafe actions — account for much of that. Compound those inherent, and largely insurmountable, accident risks with teens’ propensity for driving at night, loading up their vehicles with classmates as unruly as themselves and regularly not getting enough sleep, and you have a recipe that seems guaranteed to put young drivers, their passengers and everyone else on the road at danger for suffering injuries and deaths.

Minimizing teen drivers’ risk for getting into auto accidents is possible, however. And doing so is relatively simple for parents, teachers and lawmakers, provided those adults put in the time and effort.

First, parents should do what they can to limit newly licensed drivers’ time on the road to daylight hours and trips to familiar locations like school. Driving privileges can be expanded over time as children demonstrate their responsibility and skill.

Even before a teen receives his or her license, driving instructors should spend as many hours as possible in cars with students demonstrating and reinforcing safe procedures for braking, merging, turning, parking and moving with traffic. Messages about never driving when drunk or high, sleep-deprived or distracted must be repeated often by teachers and parents.

Last, every state should join North Carolina (NC) in establishing a graduated licensing process for teenagers. The full details of that program can be found on the state’s DMV website.

As North Carolina personal injury and wrongful death lawyers, my colleagues and I see every day the damage and pain caused by distracted drivers of all ages. Any step taken to reduced that tragic toll, even if it means keeping kids from cruising around with their friends, is worthwhile.

EJL