Teenagers who have been present in vehicles driven by impaired drivers may be more likely to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol themselves, recent research suggests.

In a study published online in March 2014 by the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers with the National Institute of Health surveyed about 2,500 high school students annually for three years in an effort to examine the relationship between teens' exposure to impaired driving and their own driving behaviors. The findings suggest that teens who ride in cars with impaired drivers may be dramatically more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs themselves.

According to the survey, teens who indicated they had ridden with impaired drivers in one of the three annual surveys were 10 times likelier to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For those who reported riding with impaired drivers in multiple years, the correlation was even more dramatic: Teens who rode with impaired drivers during two of the survey periods were 34 times more likely to drive drunk or drugged, while those who did so in all three survey periods were 127 times more likely.

The study's authors say teens who witness impaired driving may come to view it as "normal" and therefore may be more likely to engage in the risky behavior themselves.

Illinois licensing laws target teen driving risks

The NIH study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that the first few years after becoming licensed may be among the most hazardous times in a driver's life. Many states, including Illinois, have placed strict limits on teen drivers in an effort to protect them - and everyone else on the road - from the increased crash risk facing novice drivers.

In Illinois, people under the age of 19 are barred from using cellphones and other wireless devices while driving, even if they are in hands-free mode. Adults, on the other hand, are generally only barred from using handheld devices. The Illinois graduated licensing law also restricts nighttime driving for newly licensed teens and limits the number of minor passengers who may be present in a vehicle driven by an unsupervised teen.

Another study conducted by NIH researchers and published in New England Journal of Medicine in January 2014 showed that teen drivers are more likely than adults to crash when presented with certain types of distractions, including talking with passengers. The authors of that study say the findings could be explained by the fact that teen drivers are simply less experienced than their older counterparts and have had relatively little practice coping with distractions. As a result, the risks posed by seemingly minor distractions tend to be greater among teens and other novice drivers.

Protect your rights if you are hurt in a crash

If you have been hurt in a car accident, it is important that you take steps to protect your legal rights. Depending on the circumstances - for instance if the other driver was intoxicated, distracted or reckless - you may be entitled to receive financial compensation for the injuries, lost income, medical expenses and other damages you have sustained as a result of the crash. To learn more about your rights and options after a traffic accident in Illinois, contact a personal injury law firm in your area.

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