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Wait a Minute! Teenage Drivers May Be Safer with Passengers!

Conventional wisdom says that teenage drivers are safest when they don’t have the distraction of passengers in the car. For years, driving safety experts have advised against allowing a group of friends to ride along with a teen driver. The chatter among all these adolescents would surely be a dangerous distraction, they said.

This viewpoint was so obviously sensible that it was even incorporated into the licensing laws of many states. Under Pennsylvania’s driving laws, for example, teen drivers who have held a junior driver’s license for six months or less may have only one other teenage passenger in the car with them (not counting immediate family members), and a maximum of three teenage friends after six months’ driving experience.

However, here’s the thing: maybe all these worries about teen drivers distracted by their passengers are modern myths.

The Bridgestone study

At first glance, that’s what a new study commissioned by Bridgestone America seems to say. The survey found that traffic accidents involving teenage drivers were less common when there were teen passengers in the car. About half of all auto accidents involving 16- and 17-year-old teen drivers occurred when the driver was alone in the vehicle.

But other analysts say you should take another look at the data before you start rounding up volunteers to ride along with your teenage son or daughter. The real lesson of the study isn’t new information about driver distraction by passengers—it’s the old story of distracted driving and handheld devices.

Teenagers who are driving alone are far more likely than those accompanied by passengers to text or make calls on their cell phones, despite warnings (and laws) against it. When passengers are in the car, they may discourage the driver from the risky practice of using handheld devices. Just having friends to talk to may relieve the isolation that tempts teen drivers to text instead of minding the road.

What happens when a teen driver gets in an accident?

The survey found that 95 percent of teenager drivers have admitted to using mobile devices while driving, even though a majority of teens recognize it’s an unsafe practice. Those statistics are only slightly worse than the rates for adult drivers, demonstrating that public service messages simply are not working across generations.

The Harrisburg accident attorneys at Schmidt Kramer are committed to cutting the risks of Pennsylvania traffic accidents caused by distracted driving. You can keep up with our thoughts on this issue (and other important legal issues for our area) by subscribing to our free newsletter. Request your copy by calling us at (717) 888-8888. At the same time, you can also schedule a confidential consultation with one of our trial attorneys if you or a loved one has been injured in a Pennsylvania car accident that was not your fault. There is no charge for this conference, and we never send you a bill for any legal fees unless we succeed in obtaining a financial recovery for your case.