Your Passengers Are a Distracted Driving Risk

car with teenagers

Many teens are afflicted with the dangerous notion that they are invincible. In other words, they just don’t think (insert dangerous behavior here) will result in something bad happening to them. Pair that up with being in the technological age where we are constantly buried in our wireless technology, and it can be a recipe for disaster.

But sometimes low-tech behavior can pose just as much of a risk. For instance, a new study from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center has found that teen drivers with loud or rowdy passengers have a higher risk for an accident than when they are distracted by technology.

The study involved 52 teen drivers in North Carolina, most of whom had just gotten their license. Cameras were mounted in each vehicle, which recorded their driving activities (with audio) for over six months. While the cameras were continuously active, they only recorded when the cameras’ momentum reached a certain threshold, then recorded for 20 seconds.

About 24,000 clips of the drivers were captured over six months. The most common distracted driving behavior was as follows:


  • Use of electronic devices (6.7 percent of the clips)
  • Adjusting controls (6.2 percent) – Grooming (less than 1 percent)
  • About a third of the video clips showed passengers were present, of these 12.6 percent involved loud conversations and 6.3 percent had rowdy passengers.

The young drivers in the study were six times more likely to be involved in a collision, near collision, or lose control of their vehicle when there was a loud conversation.

The findings underscore the validity of related restrictions on young drivers. Most states have some form of restriction on the number of young passengers a teen driver can have.

“Forty-three states currently restrict newly licensed drivers from having more than one young passenger in their vehicle,” said Robert Foss, senior research scientist at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

In Washington state, for the first six months after getting a driver’s license, teens are not allowed to have passengers under the age of 20, unless they are family members.

The researchers admit to potential flaws in the study, mainly that the sample size was small and that knowing cameras were present may have influenced behavior. However, they pointed out that in other studies, even when people were aware they were being monitored, they would quickly return to their normal behavior.

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