Center for Injury Research and Prevention

A Tragic Mix: Teens Driving Multiple Passengers

March 12, 2013

Around 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, six young lives were lost in a crash in Warren, Ohio. If this wasn’t bad enough, since Sunday two more crashes in Texas and Illinois have occurred taking an additional nine.

I had been preparing a post about the ESPNU Show “E:60” that aired a story Sunday about four members of a high school football team in Manheim, PA that died in a crash in January 2011. The quarterback, Caleb Walton, stepped forward to express his regret that he didn’t do more to stop his friends from making a fatal choice.  I hope his courage is not in vain. 

The details of these recent crashes are still being determined, and it’s not our place to comment on them, except to say that our thoughts and prayers are with those communities. The crashes did share one thing in common: a carload of teens driven by a teen driver, which can exponentially increase the risk of a fatal crash.

Unfortunately, these crashes are examples of what is seen nationally and are a cautionary tale for other families and other communities.

What can be done? Families and communities can better prepare their teens for the life-and-death responsibilities that come with being a driver, as well as a passenger. Before they drive on their own, teens need to acquire the essential driving skills that can prevent crashes, such as knowing how to moderate speed for conditions, how to scan, detect and avoid hazards, and how to manage peer passengers and other distractions. When they become drivers, parents should closely monitor teens' activities that involve driving. And we can encourage teens to be helpful passengers who respect the responsibility of the driver to remain focused on the road, rather than creating distractions that can lead to serious crashes.

I appreciate the courage of Caleb Walton, the Manheim Central Barons Quarterback featured in the E:60 piece. By sharing his story of regret that he didn’t stop his friends from their dangerous driving maneuver, Caleb may help other teens to make better choices.  We can help Caleb by sharing his story as broadly as possible and then asking teens to talk about ways they can prevent their friends from risking their lives with poor choices around driving.


Research Details: The CIRP@CHOP young driver research team published two papers in 2011 and 2012 that describe what happens in cars with teens behind the wheel right before a serious crash, utilizing a database of crashes called the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study. The first paper describes three critical common driving errors that occurred just before crashing: speeding too fast for conditions, being distracted, and failing to detect a hazard. The other paper examines the role passengers may play in a teen driver crash. Compared to driving alone, males driving with peer passengers are six times more likely to perform an illegal driving maneuver and twice as likely to act aggressively as male drivers driving alone.  Among female drivers with passengers, one in five was distracted by something inside the vehicle right before they crashed.

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