The risk of death for kids riding with drivers aged 16 to 19 was at least double that of those riding with drivers aged 25 and older, according to a study released today by researcher, Flaura Koplin Winston of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There were about two deaths per 1,000 crashes for young passengers with 25-plus drivers, versus more than four deaths in the younger group. Most of the accidents occurred on high-speed roads and most the drivers weren't wearing seat belts.
Last year in Minnesota, the Legislature considered further restrictions on young drivers, limiting the number of young passengers who could be in the car. Opponents said the bill said those decisions should be left to parents. It passed the Senate but died in the House.
Today's study probably isn't going to surprise anyone in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety (A call to their communications department has not yet been returned). Last year, traffic deaths topped 500 in Minnesota. It found young males are the most likely to engage in "unsafe driving behaviors."
The carnage may not be lost on the kids, though. The New York Times reported last week that the proportion of teens holding drivers licenses is dropping.
The question is not only one of age, it's experience behind the wheel. I suspect that the first few years of driving are the most hazardous, regardless of the age of the driver. The trick, then, is to get new drivers more experience, not merely grow older.
However, the New York Times article rightly points out that most of the change is because many states have introduced staged licenses, so that 16 year olds cannot have a full license, no matter how much they want one. I doubt that teens are waiting to drive because they see articles about car crashes in the paper, as the post implies.
The problem is that drivers only get better with experience, and they can't get experience without driving. It makes sense to me to limit the passengers a new driver can have, both as a way to reduce distractions and as a way to limit the number of people injured if the new driver does crash.
On the other hand, limiting the number of passengers while teens are forming their driving habits may discourage carpooling behavior in the future.