TEENAGE drivers are three times as likely to have a fatal crash if they are travelling with a group of friends as when driving alone, a new study has found.
The greatest danger is posed during the first 30 weeks after passing their test.
After that period, the risk that they will cause a death or serious injury on the road halves.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which publishes the findings in a report today, is urging the British government to introduce restrictions on young drivers for the first six months after they qualify.
The association says that 270 deaths or serious injuries a year would be prevented by a law limiting all drivers aged under 20 to carrying no more than one teenage passenger for six months after they pass their driving test.
The report says: "Young passengers can both distract young drivers and encourage them to drive in a more risky way.
"Restricting drivers under 20 to carrying just one teenage passenger for the first six months of driving will allow them to gain experience of carrying passengers before having to deal with the distraction of three or four of their teenage peers in their vehicle at the same time."
The Department for Transport (DfT) is planning the most wide-ranging reform of driver training and testing for a generation and has acknowledged the evidence of benefits from placing conditions on the licences of young drivers.
Several US states have imposed limits on the number of passengers a teenage driver can carry in the first six or 12 months.
They found that, on average, fatal crashes fell by as much as 37pc after the limits were introduced.
The report from the ABI says that the collision rate for young drivers increases with each additional passenger carried.
Compared with driving alone, the risk of a fatal collision for young drivers is as much as 39pc higher with one passenger, 85pc higher with two and a massive 182pc higher with three or more.
Overall, teenage drivers are twice as likely as those aged over 30 to kill or injure their passengers.
The DfT is focusing on making the driving test more rigorous and has doubts about the practicality of enforcing restrictions that require police to determine the age of passengers.
However, Nick Starling, of the ABI, said: "The gov- ernment's proposals will not reduce significantly the unacceptable casualty rate among young drivers and their passengers.
"We want tough-love measures, including a six-month limit on the number of teenage passengers, which will result in far fewer teenage tragedies in which young friends travelling together are killed."
The ABI said the limit would reduce the cost of insurance for teenage drivers because the number of multimillion-pound claims would fall. (©The Times, London)