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Editorial: Set limits for teen drivers

Among the various things that Maryland could do to decrease teen driving deaths, strengthening the law regarding teen passengers could have a substantial beneficial impact.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute last week released a report indicating that if states adopted five components of the toughest young driver laws in the nation, more than 500 lives could be saved and more than 9,500 collisions could be prevented each year.

Raising the permit age in Maryland from 15 years and nine months to 16 years could reduce fatal teen crashes by 3 percent, the study suggests.

Increasing the intermediate license age from 16½ to 17 years could result in a 7 percent reduction.

Limiting teen driving hours to 8 p.m., instead of current state law that allows teen drivers to be out on the road until midnight could reduce deaths by 9 percent.

And increasing the practice time from 60 hours to 65 hours could see a fatal accident reduction of less than 1 percent, according to the study.

But perhaps the statistic that might save the most teen lives is further limiting the number of teen passengers a young driver can have in a vehicle. Currently Maryland law says no teen passengers for the first five months of driving.

The study suggests that changing the law to no teen passengers for teen drivers would save lives.

In a press release, Christine Sarames Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed "a strong association between the number and age of passengers present in-vehicle and the risk of a teen driver dying in a traffic crash."

According to the study, compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver's fatality risk increases 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 and no older passengers.

The risk doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21 and no older passengers, and the risk quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21 and no older passengers.

Regardless of the law, AAA Mid-Atlantic reminds parents that they can always set limits for the number of passengers their teen driver can carry.

Given the statistics on how risks increase with the number of passengers, putting limits in place may be the best thing parents can do to help reduce their child's chance of becoming involved in an accident.

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