The Characteristics of Youth Passengers of Impaired Drivers

Author(s): Douglas J. Beirness, Amy Porath-Waller

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Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among Canadian youth and alcohol and drug use are involved in large proportion of these incidents. The dangers of alcohol and drug use by young drivers are not limited to those operating the vehicle but extend to their passengers as well. Youth aged 16-24 are three times more likely to ride with an impaired driver than to drive after using alcohol or drugs. Passengers of an impaired driver can actually increase the risk of crash by distracting the driver or encouraging risk-taking, especially if the passengers have consumed alcohol or drugs as well. A review of the literature of young passengers of drivers who have used alcohol or drugs reveals a commonality of characteristics of young passengers and young drivers who have used alcohol or drugs. The risk factors include a number of demographic, psychosocial, and behavioural characteristics such as lower socioeconomic status, higher levels of risk-taking, peer and parental influences, early onset of drinking and drug use, and engagement in other deviant behaviours. This review outlines the fact that young people don’t necessarily make good choices about their transportation options when riding or driving and highlights the need for public education and awareness programs that promote the idea that safe transportation is the responsibility of both drivers and passengers.