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September 27, 2013

Teenage drivers with teen passengers more likely to die in accidents

WASHINGTON — When a novice teen driver dies in a crash, odds increasingly are that there is another teenager in the car, new research shows.

For more than a decade, states have been imposing restrictions on teenage drivers that likely deserve credit for an overall decline in teenage traffic fatalities. But a study released Thursday shows that 15- to 17-year-old drivers are almost eight times more likely to get into a fatal accident while carrying two or more teenage passengers.

The analysis of 10 years of national traffic data notes that the 30 percent increase in deaths when other teens are present came at "the same time text messaging exploded in American society."

"We can't scientifically state that there's a direct link between these two things yet, but it seems reasonable to suspect a connection," said Russell Henk, a researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) who wrote the study.

Drivers age 19 and under are three times more likely to die in accidents, and traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death in that age group.

From 2002 to 2011, the number of novice teenage drivers in fatal accidents dropped by 60 percent, but the percentage of fatalities that occurred when other teenagers were in the vehicle increased each year.

The District of Columbia and 47 states have adopted graduated licensing programs that put specific requirements on teenage drivers, including a restriction on the number of passengers they can carry. All states except Vermont and Nevada limit teen driving overnight.

Virginia, for example, permits no passengers under age 18 for the first year. Maryland allows no passengers under the age of 18 for the first five months. All three Washington area jurisdictions ban cellphone use by novice teenage drivers, as do 35 other states, and texting by all drivers is outlawed in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

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