Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Peer pressure from passengers in the vehicle may affect a teen driver’s behaviour just before a serious crash, according to two studies by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm.

Experts have long known that peer passengers increase a teen driver’s crash risk, but what has not been well understood was how they do this. “These studies help us understand the factors that may predispose teens to drive with multiple friends and how those passengers may contribute to crashes by distracting the driver and promoting risky driving behaviours, such as speeding, tailgating or weaving,” said study author Allison Curry. “Knowing this, we can develop programs that work in tandem with current graduated driver licensing laws that limit the number of passengers for teens during their first year of driving.”

The first study surveyed 198 teen drivers and found that those who are most likely to drive with multiple passengers shared similar characteristics: they considered themselves “thrill seekers,” they perceived that their parents did not set rules or monitor their whereabouts, and they possessed a weak perception of the risks associated with driving in general. The study did find that these teenagers make up the minority of drivers, with the majority of drivers reporting strong perceptions of the risks of driving, low frequencies of driving with multiple passengers, and strong beliefs that their parents monitored their behaviour and set rules.

The second study analyzed a nationally representative sample of 677 teen drivers involved in serious crashes. Both male and female drivers with peer passengers were more likely to be distracted just before a crash, as compared to teens who crashed while driving alone. Of those who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before crashing, 71 per cent of males and 47 per cent of females said they were directly distracted by their passengers.

The researchers found that males with passengers were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal manoeuvre and more than twice as likely to drive aggressively just before a crash, compared with males driving alone. Female drivers rarely drove aggressively prior to a crash, with or without passengers.

“Most teens take driving seriously and act responsibly behind the wheel,” said study author Jessica Mirman. “However, some may not realize how passengers can directly affect their driving. Teen passengers can intentionally and unintentionally encourage unsafe driving. Because it can be difficult for new drivers to navigate the rules of the road and manage passengers, it’s best to keep the number of passengers to a minimum for the first year.”

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