Danger in numbers

Stats show teen drivers involved in accidents usually have passengers

Logan Smith, 16, sits on a car as he talks with his friends after school Monday in the parking lot of Lake City High.

Speeding? Drinking and driving? Dustin Kegley doesn't bother with any of that, he said.

But the 16-year-old wasn't convinced about others his age on Monday.

"They're more crazy than experienced drivers, I'd say," said the Lake City High School student, standing by his car in the school parking lot.

The big thing Kegley hears about is kids racing, he said, "going super fast."

He figured that's tied to friends in the backseat, egging on their teenage chauffeurs.

"Just to show off and be cool," he said of why young drivers get careless.

Teen drivers might want to have their pals clam up.

From 2005-2010, 57 percent of fatal crashes with 16 or 17-year-old drivers involved at least one passenger, according to a study just released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

"Most commonly, all passengers in the vehicle were aged 13 -19," the report states.

In Idaho, 41 percent of 80 fatal crashes with teen drivers involved teenage passengers, according to the report.

Risk factors like speeding, late night driving, not wearing seat belts and drinking were also more prevalent when other teens were in the car, according to the document.

"You put a young driver in a position where the potential to be distracted goes up," observed AAA spokesman Dave Carlson.

Is it a problem in Kootenai County, too?

"Absolutely," said Dep. Jack McAvoy at the sheriff's department. "I patrol heavily around the schools, and I see it all the time."

Stats do indicate worrisome teen driving here. Over the past five years, one in four crashes in Coeur d'Alene have involved a teen driver, according to the IdahoOffice of Highway Safety.

And from 2011 to 2012, Coeur d'Alene saw 48 car crashes with drivers ages 15 to 18, according to the Coeur d'Alene Police Department. Of those, 30 were injury crashes.

McAvoy believes much of that stems from distraction and pressure from passengers.

He often sees teens speeding with other youth in the car, he said. The other day at Super 1 Foods, he saw a kid doing roadies in the parking lot.

"One of his friends asked to see how fast his car could go," McAvoy said. "Peer pressure is a huge deal."

He also hears about issues with passengers at the Alive At 25 class he teaches. Of the 40 young drivers in each monthly class, he said, about 80 percent are court ordered to be there because of poor driving decisions.

"I'll sit in class and ask, 'How many of you have experienced situations when someone told you in your car to do something you knew was wrong to do, and you did it?'" he said.

Some hands always go up, he said.

"I think the key is education," McAvoy said, adding that attitudes often change after the class.

Anthony Campos, owner of Roadmasters Driving School in Coeur d'Alene, pegged two chief problems he sees among teen drivers: Speeding, and cell phone use.

"It only happens when they have a lot of friends in the car," he said of teens testing their speedo-meters. "Just showing off, they get carried away."

To be fair, Campos said many young drivers in Kootenai County do demonstrate cautious driving.

"Most kids have followed my advice, and spent six months with parents practicing," he said.

In Idaho, licensed drivers under 17 can't drive with more than one passenger under 17 during their first six months of being licensed, unless the passengers are related to them.

Completing and passing a driver-training program is required for those under 17 applying for a license.

Griffen Winget, 16, said the effect of teen passengers depends on the nature of the kids.

"The people I drive with are respectful. They know being obnoxious in the back seat is a distraction," the Coeur d'Alene youth said.

But then, Winget rarely drives with other teens, he said.

"I'm aware of the bad things that could go on," he said with a chuckle.

Dagon Hall, a licensed driver at 15, prepared to pull out of the LCHS parking lot with two teenage friends beside him in the front of his truck.

Hall doesn't think teenage passengers prompt poor driving habits, he said, pointing out that all three were buckled in.

"It's more like, you don't want your friends to get hurt," Hall said.

As Jessica Fortis, 17, opened the door to her car, she said she doesn't find it distracting when she often drives around her teenage friends.

Fortis never uses her cell phone while she drives, she said. Neither she nor any other teens she knows engage in drinking and driving.

"We're able to focus on a task as well as adults," Fortis said. "We are just as mature as adults in a driving situation."

To view the AAA report, go to: www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/2012FatalCrashCharacteristicsTeenDriversAndPassengers.pdf.

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