Know before you go: Who’s in my car?

The busy days of summer are here, putting more cars on the road and drivers behind the wheel. But before you get into the driver’s seat, ask yourself–who’s in my car?

It sounds funny, but it’s important to be aware of who you’re driving with. Not only are you battling more-congested-than-normal roadways this summer (see “ Parents, it’s time to review your family’s summer driving habits ,”) but adding passengers to the mix only ups the likelihood that you’ll get distracted and crash. And at this time of the year, that could prove to be a dangerous mistake.

Driving with passengers
Dealing with passengers is one of the most frequently reported causes of distraction for drivers, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety . Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven increases 44% when carrying one passenger younger than 21. The more passengers, the greater the risk.

“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” said Beth Mosher, Director of Public Affairs, AAA Chicago. “These findings should send a clear message to families that parents can make their teens safer immediately by refusing to allow them to get in the car with other young people, whether they’re behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.”

GDL system
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have a three-stage Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system, which institutes a set of restrictions to gradually build up driving experience under lower-risk conditions in young drivers. Several states, such as California and Indiana, prohibit young drivers with intermediate licenses from driving with peer passengers, but other states, like Florida and Iowa, have no legislation at all. While GDL laws can target the problem of distracted driving, not all states have implemented them to do so.

State by state GDL laws

This map by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows how many young passengers may be carried by an intermediate license holder in each state.

Passengers are YOUR responsibility
When you’re driving, your passengers’ safety is your responsibility. They are relying on you to get them to their destination safely. This means you have an obligation to drive with care — and take steps to keep passengers safe. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat car occupants by 45%, but National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures show that more than 27 million people don’t buckle up. Enforce a rule — if they’re in your car, they wear a belt!
  • Children 12 and under are safest when seated in the back seat . Young children must be correctly secured in an appropriate, fitted car seat , and the National Safety Council says child restraint systems should go beyond state requirements . Check that your child’s car seat hasn’t expired; the typical use life of a car seat is six to eight years. And check for recalls , too.
  • Occupy small children during the drive with entertaining items such as books, quiet toys, or a DVD player with headphones. If you need to tend to them, stop at a safe place first.
  • Properly restrain your pet when driving with one in your car. Looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your chance of being in a crash . AAA found that 18% of surveyed dog owners admitted to reaching into the back seat to interact with their dog, and 17% said they’ve allowed their dog to sit in their lap — all huge distractions. offers these resources to help you drive safely with various passengers:


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