Getting a driver’s license is symbolic for teens. They get the benefit of increased independence – and this freedom from parental authority can give a boost to their social status. However, sharing their vehicle with peer passengers increases the risk of fatal crashes.
In Virginia, teen fatalities (ages 15 to 19) dramatically increased by 55.6% in 2021, resulting in 42 deaths. Knowing the causes this surge can remind teens of their responsibilities on the road and help parents address the situation early to prevent deadly consequences.
Peer influence is powerful
Studies find that the combination of adolescence, peers and motor vehicles factors in many fatal accidents because it forms a social context:
- The pressure to fit in and please peers
- The potential cost of alienating peers
- The propensity to engage in impulsive or risky behavior, such as speeding and running a red light
Virginia law addresses this safety concern by placing passenger count restrictions for teen drivers. Unless traveling with a licensed adult, teens below 18 who have been driving for less than a year may only have one passenger below 21, unless accompanied by a licensed adult sitting in the front seat.
If the teen driver has their license for at least a year, they can drive with three or more passengers below 21 only in case of emergencies, if a 21 or older licensed adult is in the front seat, or if they are traveling to and from school. Violations are punishable by license suspension.
Peer dangers are preventable
Peer interactions inside cars vary greatly. In most cases, peers may force teen drivers to give in to distractions – listening to loud music, using drugs, drinking alcohol or conversing with other pedestrians – instead of encouraging them to focus behind the wheel.
Parents can mitigate these life-threatening scenarios through honest discussions with their children and peers about the dangers of deviant actions on the road. They can explain an accident resulting in hurt victims is not as exhilarating as peer rides. If teen drivers face the tragic reality of car collisions, they must seek legal support to help them make sound decisions that can protect their future.