Sometimes, when statistics meet the human beings behind them, both seem to come into focus and we wish they hadn’t.

On Highway 47 in Lincoln County this August 11, a car carrying five teenage boys hit a tree, killing two 16-year-old passengers and seriously injuring another. None of the three were wearing seatbelts. Two other teenaged occupants, including the driver, were wearing seatbelts and suffered moderate to minor injuries.

Startling numbers about teens driving together

The chances that somebody will be killed jumps up by 51% when a teenaged driver has passengers who are all also teenagers themselves. That’s compared to crashes where the teen driver is alone in the car.

The startling fatality rate is not just for the teen driver and their teen passengers, but for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers and passengers in other cars, who could be anyone from newborn infants to the very elderly.

Specifically, the fatality rate for other motorists involved jumps by 56%, and by 17% for pedestrians and bicyclists, compared to crashes where a teen driver is alone.

Most telling of all, perhaps, is that the crash fatality rate overall actually drops by 8% when one or more passengers is at least 35 years old, compared to when the teen driver is alone in the crash. The adult presence also drops the death rate for the teen driver themselves by 61%.

Possible lessons for parents and Missouri laws

That’s a lot of numbers, but their message is blazingly simple. Teens together make for more dangerous drivers. It’s better that teens avoid teen passengers, but the numbers show they’re also better off if older passengers model and enforce better habits.

Apparently, teens distract teen drivers and tend to erode safe habits (like looking both ways, wearing seatbelts, etc.). Very likely, teens enjoying each other’s company encourage dangerous driving and treating the vehicle itself as a source of recreation and excitement.

The courts can play a major role by pressuring for financial responsibility for decisions made by teen drivers, their families and insurance companies.

Missouri laws may help make its teen drivers some of the most dangerous in the country.

Like every other state, Missouri has a method of gradually allowing new drivers to, with restrictions, gain experience until they’re statistically better able to make their own judgments. Called graduated licensing, Missouri’s schedule is not particularly strict, with neighboring states like Illinois taking a more cautious approach.

Incidentally, the crash statistics above are from a study published late last year by the AAA Foundation (founded in 1947 as a separate outfit from the auto club).