Don’t Over Pack the Back!

Does your teen driver’s vehicle ever look like the occupants are trying to break a world record for cramming the most people into a car? If so, then it’s time to talk to your teen about the dangers of driving with too many people or things in the vehicle.

Too Many Teen Passengers

Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have shown that more fatal teen driver crashes occur when passengers are in the vehicle with a teen driver, and more than half of all teens killed in car crashes were passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen driver. One reason for this is because, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 60 percent of teen driving accidents can be attributed to distracted driving, and the top distraction for teen drivers is other passengers.

Many states have adopted Graduated Licensing laws that limit the number of teen passengers that can be in a vehicle with a new driver. While those laws are a good start, most experts agree that parents who are involved and set limits are one of the most effective ways to protect teens from a dangerous crash risk: driving with teen passengers.

So talk to your kids and set limits on how many passengers they can have in their vehicle. And if they’ll sometimes be driving their younger siblings, be sure to talk to those young passengers about the importance of behaving in the vehicle and not being a distraction to their older sibling chauffeur.

The Junk in Your Trunk

While too many teens in a car can be risky, too much junk in the trunk or packed in the back can also be dangerous, an important thing to keep in mind if your teen will be loading the car and heading to college in a few weeks.

Here’s what happens when you overload a vehicle:

  • Vehicles handle differently when they’re loaded with more weight than they were designed to carry, making them less stable and more difficult to steer.
  • The vehicle won’t be able to accelerate or slow down as quickly, and the brakes may get overheated, further diminishing the ability to slow down or stop.
  • At nighttime, the headlights will point up slightly, make it more difficult to see the road and also possibly blinding oncoming drivers.
  • If the vehicle is loaded to the point that it’s sagging, that means the shocks are overloaded and could bottom out on a bump, causing the driver to lose control.
  • If the vehicle is packed to the roof, you won’t be able to see out the back and rear side windows or the rear view mirror, so you won’t be able to see what’s behind you…such as that police car trying to pull you over for driving a dangerously overloaded vehicle.
  • If you’ve exceeded the weight limit of your vehicle, you’ve probably also exceeded the load capacity of your tires, which could cause a blowout. And if your tires are underinflated and overloaded, they can more easily overheat, leading to tire failure.

Where to Look

The best place to find the load capacity of your vehicle and its tires is to look for the manufacturer’s load information sticker on the driver’s door jamb or inside the fuel filler door. This sticker provides info on how many passengers can be safely carried, the allowable gross vehicle weight (the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers and cargo), the amount of air pressure needed in the tires (it may vary from front to rear) and how much weight can be carried by each axle of the vehicle.

Show your teen driver where to find this sticker and explain the importance of adhering to it, and you’ll take a big step toward keeping your teen safer on the road.