As teens prepare to hit the road during summer, a new study suggests parents should be paying closer attention to who is riding with their young drivers.
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The national report released this month shows a strong link between the number of young passengers in a teen drivers vehicle and the risk of a teen driver dying in a crash a scenario that has ended the lives of young San Diegans in recent years.
According to the AAA Foundation study, a 16- or 17-year-old drivers fatality risk increases by 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 when compared to driving alone.
That risk then doubles when carrying two young passengers, and quadruples when carrying three or more.
On the other hand, carrying at least one passenger 35 or older lowers a teen drivers risk of death by 62 percent.
California Highway Patrol Officer Brian Pennings said driver inattention and distraction increases with each young passenger.
The first 12 months of driving, statistically, is the most dangerous time of your life, said Pennings, who teaches classes in the East County for teen drivers and their parents.
The data seems to underscore various laws that restrict teen drivers during their first year of being licensed, including Californias provisional license law that was enacted in 2006.
State law prohibits teens who have been licensed for less than one year to carry any passenger younger than 20 years old unless an adult 25 or older is in the car. They also cant drive without an adult in the car between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The law appears to have made some difference.
The number of teen driver fatalities in the state has dropped 65 percent since 2006, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the state Office of Traffic Safety. Overall teen motor vehicle fatalities fell 58 percent during the same period.
Still, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old in the nation.
Almost every one of the high-profile teenage fatalities are all teens driving outside provisions, Pennings said.
A reminder of the risks came last month, when a carload of five East County teenagers crashed on state Route 52 on the way home from a beach bonfire during spring break. Two back seat passengers Anthony Foreman, 18, a graduate of El Capitan High School in Lakeside, and Jayli Campbell, 16, a student at Santana High School in Santee were thrown from the Volkswagen Passat and died. Charlotte McQuillen, the 15-year-old front seat passenger, was seriously injured, as well as Anthoney Taylor, 17.
The 16-year-old driver, who has a provisional license, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and street racing.
Prosecutors said the teen was racing the 18-year-old driver of a Volvo. That driver, Michael Johnson, has also been charged with vehicular manslaughter, racing and driving while intoxicated. He had two other teen passengers in his car as well.
In 2010, Cathedral Catholic High School graduate Natalie Nield, 17, was driving a Ford Expedition when she collided with a van and a third vehicle near Bishop. She died, along with her passengers Amanda Post, 18, of Olivenhain, and John Adams, 39, of Cardiff.
Safety advocates urge parents to be the front line of defense when it comes to driving privileges.
Its a law that as a teen progresses in their first year of driving, parents become very lax about and tend to make exceptions, Pennings said.
Some teenagers agree that their peers are too carefree behind the wheel.
It depends on the driver. I have friends that drive crazy. I just dont drive with them, said Edwin Elascenci, 15.
Another future driver, Cory Derieux, 16, echoed the sentiment of many students with the opinion that a year was too long to restrict passengers, when a few months would do.
Parents and teens alike said they were surprised at the results of the study and the heightened risk of fatality.
Susan Troiano, who has a 16-year-old daughter who will begin driving soon, said she is well aware of the dangers.
I always ask, Whos driving? Are they allowed to drive? Troiano said. I think its OK during the day, driving to school when its routine. But when they are going out they are distracted.
I think they need a lot of practice, she said.
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