TRAFFIC SAFETY Young drivers more dangerous with young passengers, study says

Some states have started graduated driver licensing.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Cars have more safety features than in the past, but a concern remains about the way young drivers perform behind the wheel when the passengers are also young, a government official said Thursday.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study determined that children 15 and under have twice the risk of becoming a fatality if the driver is 20 or younger than if the driver is in the age range of 35-to-45.
Donald J. McNamara, NHTSA regional administrator, discussed the study at the I-X Center, a trade show facility where the Cleveland Auto Show opens Saturday. He said the Department of Transportation agency reviewed 1,730 deaths of people 15 and younger during 2003 and considered the age of the driver. Of those deaths, 518 involved people in a vehicle driven by someone 20 or younger.
"I don't think it's any surprise, but I don't think we ever really looked at it in that way before," he said.
Young drivers are more likely to be involved in a crash, they are more likely to speed, more willing to take risks, more likely to drive at night, and they underestimate the dangers associated with a hazardous situation, McNamara said.
The risk for motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-to-19-year-olds than among any other age group. Some states have started graduated driver licensing, forcing restrictions on beginning drivers which can gradually be eased with more experience and driving skills.
Personal experience
Samantha Vilt, 17, spoke at the NHTSA news conference. The suburban Cleveland girl said she has been more cautious since she was in an accident in September at an intersection when she became confused by the traffic flow. No one was hurt, but the car she was driving and a pickup truck were damaged. She had no passengers.
"The more [young] people I get in my car I know the louder it gets and more hectic it gets," she said. "But having one other person in the car is sometimes useful, because that person can change the radio station and do other things so I don't have to take my eyes off the road."
Cleveland-area driving instructor Ken Stout, president of DriveTeam, said driving now may be more difficult for teens than in recent decades, even though he teaches them about antilock brake systems and other safety features.
"There are so many more cars on the road, so much more congestion than 20 years ago. All of that adds to the dilemma for teen drivers, even though cars are safer," Stout said.

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