February 3, 2005

Teen drivers pose greater risk to child occupants

Philadelphia, Ohio – A national study of children in car crashes reports that children who were driven by teenagers were three times as likely to have a serious injury as those who were driven by adults. The risk was highest for young teenaged passengers, those ages 13 to 15.

According to researchers from Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), a research partnership of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm, teen drivers were more likely than adult drivers to be involved in more severe crashes and less likely to have child passengers under age 9 years properly restrained. The researchers propose modifying state licensing laws to provide education and requirements that promote safer driving by teenaged drivers.

The study, published in this month’s issue of “Injury Prevention,” looked at 19,111 children in 12,163 crashes reported to State Farm. Overall, teenagers drove four percent of these children in crashes. When a child was injured, however, teenagers were much more likely to be driving – 12 percent of the injured children had a teen driver. These children were not just their peers: 40 percent of teen-driven child passengers were younger than 13 suggesting that teens regularly drive younger children.

“The excess risk of injury to children in teen driver crashes can be primarily explained by the more severe crashes those teen drivers incurred,” states Flaura Winston, MD, Ph.D., principal investigator for Partners for Child Passenger Safety and the scientific director of TraumaLink, a pediatric injury research centre at Children’s Hospital. “The severity is likely a function of a teen driver’s inexperienced driving or risk-taking behaviour and immaturity.”

Dr. Winston and her colleagues also noted higher likelihood of no restraint use and front row seating for child passengers who were driven by 15- to 17-year-old drivers. Children riding with these novice teen drivers were 3 times as likely to have no restraint at all as those with adult drivers. Also, children under age 13 years riding with novice teen drivers were more likely to sit in the front seat as compared to those with adult drivers.

“Parents need to understand the excess risk of allowing their teens to drive younger siblings,” says Dr. Winston. “Parents should reinforce over and over the importance of safe driving habits among their teens to not only reduce their high crash rates but also to make sure that the teen driver and the passengers are appropriately restrained on every trip.”

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