How passengers cause driving distractionsThe dangers of distracted driving are well-known. Talking on a cellphone and texting are two of the most common ways that drivers are distracted and cause accidents.

However, these aren't the only ways a person's attention can veer from the road. Passengers can also be a distraction—especially when a teenager is behind the wheel.

How Passengers Distract Motorists

Distracted driving is any activity that takes someone's focus off of safely operating their vehicle. According to the motor vehicle safety division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three ways this behavior leads to motor vehicle accidents:

  • Manual: when the driver takes their hands off the wheel
  • Visual: when they're eyes are off the road
  • Cognitive: when they're not focused on the task of driving

Adult passengers create a distraction for people driving through a variety of means, including long conversations, arguments, roughhousing, singing, being loud, and obstructing driving tasks, to name a few.

It's not only adult passengers who contribute to distractions. When someone is worried about children in the backseat or unrestrained pets, it's much more challenging to focus on the task of driving.

Teen Drivers Are at an Even Greater Risk

The primary reasons teens are involved in motor vehicle accidents include their inexperience and risky driving behaviors. In 2020, the CDC reported that teen drivers ages 16-19 are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than other drivers.

Their top distraction for collisions continues to be cellphone use, but it's critical to note that most fatal accidents happen when passengers—especially other teens—are in the car. What's worse is that crash risks become greater as the number of passengers in the car increases.

The Driver Is Always Responsible

There are few legal cases that implicate a passenger in a motor vehicle accident, no matter how distracting they are. One of the rare times when fault lies with the passenger is when it's proven that their direct actions—such as grabbing the steering wheel, harming the driver, or otherwise interfering with the operation of the vehicle—contributed to the incident.

The motorist always has responsibility for what happens in the vehicle and how it impacts their ability to drive safely. Ultimately, they have to ask passengers to:

  • Help with activities to minimize distractions, such as monitoring the GPS, adjusting the radio, and navigating street directions or changing road conditions.  
  • Keep emotional, loud, or complex conversations to a minimum. General conversation is fine.
  • Respect the task of driving, especially teens, and their responsibility to keep everyone safe. Let the person behind the wheel focus on safe travel, and passengers can become co-pilots with the other activities mentioned above.
  • Wait until they pull over to address certain needs. This is especially important when children are in the car, who might want a dropped toy, a snack, or other attention from drivers.

As the driver, you have a right to set the tone for the atmosphere in the vehicle. Ask for what you need, and clarify what might be distracting behavior.

Were You Injured In a Kansas City Area Car Accident?

If you or a family member was hurt due to a distracted driving accident, you need to speak with an experienced motor vehicle accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.


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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.
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