Study: passengers with young drivers boost accidents, graduated licensing might cut toll

CHAPEL HILL -- For 16- and 17-year-old drivers, the risk of fatal injuries during motor vehicle crashes grows as the number of passengers in the vehicle increases, according to a new study. Authors of the study and a North Carolina highway safety expert say the results show graduated licensing systems are a good idea for young drivers.

Dr. Li-Hui Chen of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health and colleagues found the risk of death increased 40 percent if one passenger was present, 86 percent if there were two and 182 percent with three or more passengers. For 17-year-old drivers, comparable percentage jumps in risk were 48, 158 and 207, respectively.

Chen, research associate at Hopkins' Center for Injury Research and Policy, is first author of a report appearing in the March 22 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Robert D. Foss, a research scientist at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, wrote the accompanying editorial.

Information analyzed in the study came from three federal sources; the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey and the General Estimates System. The first records U.S. highway traffic deaths, the second reflects driving patterns nationally and the third is a probability sample of U.S. police-reported crashes.

The risk of death increased for drivers transporting passengers regardless of the time of day or sex of the driver but males were at greater risk, the study showed. Young male drivers with three or more passengers driving late at night showed the most fatalities.

"In contrast, death rates per 10 million trips for drivers aged 30 to 59 years were lower for drivers with passengers than for those without passengers," Chen wrote. "Nighttime death rates greatly exceeded daytime death rates among 16- and 17-year-old drivers combined."

In his editorial, Foss offered his views on the findings

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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