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State Wants To Limit Number Of Passengers For Teen Motorists

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state may put more teeth into teen driving laws. The state is looking at the number of passengers in cars driven by 16-year-olds.

In February 2001, a 16-year-old veered off a rural road and crashed into a tree. He died and his three passengers were hurt. Four months later,

four high school students

lost their lives in a crash, one day before the driver would have graduated from Leesville High School. Officials say both accidents happened because the drivers had too little experience and too many passengers.

"When the car is full of other underage passengers, the distraction factor is high and the chance of a crash goes way up," said Tom Bennett of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.

According to the UNC Highway Safety Center, one passenger increases the risk by about 33 percent. When two or more are on board, the risk jumps 137 percent.

A House commitee voted Tuesday to reduce those distractions. For the first six months after teens get a driver's license, they could only have one passenger under the age of 21 in the car with them. Some teens think the new recommendation would be a good idea.

"I know when you're in a car with more than one person, it's easy to get distracted and easier to go faster than it is when you're by yourself or with one other person," teen driver Jackie Capriglione said.

"Usually you get the music going and you're talking and like 'Ah!'" teen driver Kathryn Cooper said. "A lot of times, there's a lot of sudden stops or 'Oh, no!'"

Teen driver Wesley Tucker admits the one-passenger limit is probably a good safety measure, but he does not like it.

"I'm one of the oldest in my class, so I'll be driving when noboby else is and my friends will want me to ride with them and stuff," he said.

Teenagers do not have to like it, but if the one-passenger limit becomes law, they will have to obey it. Violators would be fined $100, and the six-month window starts all over again.

In Virginia, 16-year-old drivers can have no more than one passenger. Since the law passed, they have seen a decrease in the number of accidents involving new drivers.