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May 31, 2001

Restrictions on Teenage Drivers Carrying Passengers Potential Lifesaver

Restricting teenage passengers traveling with a teenage driver could save lives, according to a study released by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Previous research by the same authors showed that with 16- to 17-year-old drivers, the risk of a fatal crash increases with the number of passengers in the car. In this study, the researchers estimated the potential effect of prohibiting teenage drivers from carrying passengers younger than age 20. The findings, as well as their recommendation to include such a restriction in graduated driver licensing systems, are published in the June 2001 issue of Injury Prevention.

"Placing a restriction on drivers ages 16 to 17, who lack the experience to drive with the additional distractions of passengers, might lead to a substantial decrease in the number of fatalities of all road users. A passenger restriction may benefit not only teen drivers and their passengers but also people who share the road with them, such as occupants of other vehicles and pedestrians," says Li-Hui Chen, PhD, lead author of the study, and an assistant scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers obtained data on fatal crashes on U.S. public roads from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as comprehensive information on travel patterns from the Federal Highway Administration. In 1995, there were 1,181 road-user deaths involving drivers ages 16–17 who were driving with passengers younger than 20. The road-user death rate for those drivers ages 16–17 transporting only passengers younger than age 20 was more than three times the rate for drivers ages 16–17 without passengers.

The potential effects of disallowing teenage passengers were estimated, based on the degree of compliance and the alternate transportation choices made–such as driving by themselves, foregoing the trip, or riding with older drivers–by passengers who would have traveled with 16- to 17-year-old drivers if no restrictions were in place. Based on the choices made, the predicted number of lives that could be saved in one year ranges from 83 to 493, or a reduction in deaths of 7 to 42 percent for crashes involving drivers ages 16 and 17 combined. A similar reduction of 48 to 269 lives (8 to 44 percent) was predicted solely for 16-year-old drivers. Even if less than half the drivers obey the restrictions, a substantial reduction in road-user deaths would be expected.

"This restriction should be seriously considered by road safety officials," recommends Dr. Chen. Once a new law is enacted, further research will be needed to calculate its effectiveness in the real world. "Nevertheless," she concludes, "these results suggest the potential to save lives."

This study was supported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Public Affairs Media Contacts:
Tim Parsons @ 410.955.6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu
or Brenda O’Donnell, 703-247-1500 (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)