For years, the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States has been car crashes. But new data suggests the risk to teen drivers increases even more when they have passengers around their own age in the car.

AAA: Death rate climbs 51% when teen drivers have teen passengers

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that when a teen driver has teen passengers in the car, the fatality rate for everyone involved in a crash climbs to 51%. In contrast, when older passengers (35 or older) ride with a teen driver, overall fatality rates decline by 8%.

“It’s kind of scary when you think about that and I just think these alarming stats just to go show how much parents and role models need to do a better job of setting a better example behind the wheel,” AAA spokeswoman Tiffany Wright says.

Wight says parents can make little changes that can make a big difference in keeping their teen drivers safe.

“Allow no more than one non-family passenger under the age of 20 to ride with that teen driver, maybe during the first six months of driving,” she says. “Practice with them. Practice driving with them in low-risk situations and gradually move up to situations that are a little more complex, we’re talking about highways, driving at night.”

Other suggestions offered by
— Require teens to log at least 100 hours of supervised practice driving with a parent before driving solo.
— Use slightly different routes each practice session.
— Practice adjusting speed based on three factors: visibility, on-road traffic and different road conditions.
—Let your actions speak as loud as your words. Kids are always watching, even when you think they’re not. If you buckle up, they are more likely to buckle up, and if you speed, they will speed.

By Renee Sexton of South Carolina Radio Network