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Passengers are dangerous distractions for Montana teen drivers

Once school is out, Gallatin County teens with drivers' licenses change where and when they go places. The trip to school is replaced by a day out with friends, sometimes along unfamiliar roads. The season is a time of freedom and danger for teens, because a significant number become victims of summertime fatal motor vehicle accidents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded almost 1,000 traffic fatalities involving teens behind the wheel, between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2012. Over half the victims killed were teens. Several reasons are blamed for the seasonal increase in teen deaths, but one that often gets overlooked is passenger distraction.

A National Safety Council official says passenger behaviors may have more influence on a teen driver than texting, because the distraction by others can last longer. The chance of a teen's fatal accident goes up 44 percent when passengers are in the vehicle. Montana, like many other states, has laws that place passenger restrictions on new drivers.

Montana's graduated driver licensing law requires teen permit holders to be supervised by authorized adults. A teen driver with a restricted license is limited to a single, unrelated passenger under 18 for six months. The limit then increases to three non-adult passengers.

A Journal of Adolescent Health study learned certain behaviors by passengers were more dangerous than others for teen drivers. Cameras in vehicles driven by high school students showed when drivers were forced to take evasive action to prevent auto accidents. Crash avoidance measures were used three times more often during passenger horseplay and six times more frequently when car conversations were at high volume.

Montana parents know what many of their teens may not realize. Cars accidents can have permanent consequences including injuries, deaths, criminal charges and liability lawsuits. Victims have the right to file for compensation when losses are caused by negligent drivers of at any age.

Source: NBC Montana, "Summer: The 100 deadliest days for teen drivers" Kelly Wallace, CNN, May. 23, 2014

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