Child Passengers are Safer When Teen Driver is Their Sibling

By: Iver Penn

Your car may be definitely in great shape, with brand new and everything, but how sure are you about its safety - once you let your teenager drive it?

A new study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm reveals that children driven by teenagers are twice as likely to suffer crash injuries as those driven by adults, but the risk of injury is 40 percent lower if the teenaged driver is an older brother or sister.

"We found that children are safer and more likely to be restrained when riding with a teenaged sibling than with a non-related teenager, but they're safest when they're riding with a driver older than 25," says Flaura Winston, M.D., Ph.D., scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Winston, parents should know their teenager's risk-taking tendencies before deciding to allow them to drive their brothers and sisters around without supervision, "In some cases, siblings can have a negative influence on one another's risk-taking behaviors that can be stronger than parental or peer influence," she says.

A June 2006 study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation called "Reducing the Crash Risk for Young Drivers says that more than half of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes between 1995 and 2004 were carrying passengers younger than 21. In 1995 to 2004, 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in 24,704 fatal crashes, resulting in the deaths of 10,445 of these drivers, 8,925 of their passengers and 9,430 other people, the study found.

Parents are also warned that crash risk is highly increased for teenaged drivers when there is no predetermined destination - more reason for parents to insist on having a specific destination pinpointed for each trip a teenager takes.

The new study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm covered injury data on 16,233 children under age 16 riding as passengers in cars driven by 15- to 19-year-olds in 16 states and in Washington D.C. Data was collected through interviews with the families of the crash victims within 48 hours of the accidents in order to get accurate information on how the children were restrained. The accidents were reported to State Farm between 2000 and 2005.

Previous findings from the ongoing research alliance between CHOP and State Farm have proven that young children riding with newly licensed teenagers are at a much higher risk for injury in a crash than they are with adult drivers. This and other studies have resulted in lawmakers in many states to impose restrictions on the number of passengers young drivers are allowed to carry without adult supervision. Many states however, allow exceptions for family members.

"Our goal was to determine whether allowing an exception for teenaged drivers to carry family members as passengers makes sense from an injury prevention standpoint, and not just as a matter of convenience," Dr. Winston says.

According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a consumer, health and safety alliance, forty-four states have graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs that require teenage drivers to practice driving under adult supervision and limit exposure to risky conditions and circumstances. Twenty-nine states have a restriction provision of no more than one non-familial teenage passenger per teenage driver, which Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety considers optimal.

"Busy parents have come to rely on their older children helping with shuttling siblings to various commitments," says Dr. Winston. "By allowing family member exceptions, passenger restrictions may be readily accepted by both parents and policymakers." Researchers say this may be an important first step for states, which currently have no passenger restrictions for young drivers.

Rather than restrict sibling passengers, Dr. Winston recommends GDL programs to provide appropriate education and disincentives, such as postponement of full-driving privileges if all child passengers are not properly restrained.

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