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Distracted driving laws for Pennsylvania teens may not be enough

Many of us remember what it was like to finally get our driver's license after counting the days until our 16th birthday. The first thing you want to do is give your unlicensed friends a lift. Everyone pile in! The more the better! And let's be sure to turn up the radio for an extra good time.

It only takes one car accident to realize how dangerous this scenario can be. Driving with friends in the car can triple a teen's risk of a fatal crash. Pennsylvania passed a law in December prohibiting more than one passenger under 18 in a car being driven by someone 16 to 18 years old, with some exceptions. But new studies from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia suggest that law might not be enough. Among the studies' findings:

• Teens encouraging their friends to hop in tend to be "thrill seekers." A survey of 198 teen drivers found that a minority were likely to drive with a group of friends in the car. The drivers described themselves as thrill seekers and said their parents didn't set driving rules or limits. They also didn't have a good sense of the dangers of distracted driving.

• Drivers are more distracted with friends in the car. This comes as no surprise, of course. But when researchers examined a group of 667 teen drivers who had been in serious car accidents, they discovered that both male and female teen drivers with friends in the car were more likely to be distracted just before a crash as compared to those who crashed while they were alone. Said the study's author, "Among the teens who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before they crashed, 71 percent of males and 47 percent of females said they were distracted directly by the actions of their passengers."

The graduated driving laws for teens are a good start, but it shouldn't be solely up to police to enforce them, the researchers say. Parents need to impress the importance of these rules on their teens and perhaps even set more limits through a parent teen-driving contract. Teens may say the laws unfairly target them, but dealing with a frustrated, sulking teenager in perfect health is far easier than a pileup of cars full of injured people of all ages.

Source: Philly.com, "Reducing teen traffic accidents," Sari Harrar, Feb. 13, 2012

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