Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – A new study released in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine shows that child passengers aged 12 to 17 are more likely to die in a car crash than younger children, and the risk increases with each teenage year. The research is part of an ongoing collaboration between The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies.

Researchers examined 45,560 crashes in the U.S. involving 8- to 17-year-old passengers. Between 2000 and 2005, 9,807 passengers in this age group died in crashes.

“We saw a clear tipping point between ages 12 and 14, where child passengers became much more likely to die in a crash than their younger counterparts,” said Dr. Flaura Koplin-Winston, founder and co-scientific director of the Children’s Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention. “Long before these children ever receive a learner’s permit, they begin to exhibit a pattern that looks more like the high fatality rates we see for teen drivers.”

Of the nearly 10,000 passenger deaths studied, 54.4 per cent were riding with a driver under age 20; nearly two-thirds were unrestrained; and more than three-quarters of the crashes occurred on roads with posted speed limits above 45 mph (72 km/h). Alcohol was a factor in one-fifth of the fatal crashes. Previous research has shown that as children grow into adolescence, they are more likely to ride in cars with drivers other than their parents, such as classmates, friends or older siblings.

After controlling for a variety of factors, researchers found key predictors that pose the greatest risk. “Riding with drivers younger than 16 years old, not wearing seatbelts, and riding on higher-speed roads are the three biggest factors contributing to an older child being killed in a crash,” Dr. Winston said. “Knowing the risks can help parents and teens make smart decisions about which rides are safe, and which ones are off limits.”

The researchers suggest that parents insist on seatbelts; set a good example by not drinking and driving, obeying the speed limit and avoiding distractions such as cell phones; set rules about safe passenger behaviour; monitor the child’s travel; and know and trust the driver, as it is not safe for a child to ride with a teenager who has less than one year of driving experience.

Additional information can be found in the online pamphlet “Teaching Your Teen to be a Smart Passenger”, available at CHOP.edu.

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