The numbers are surprisingly clear and maybe even terrifying. Young drivers with young passengers are extremely dangerous. Washington’s traffic laws recognize this with special restrictions for young, less experienced drivers.

But a major watchdog group thinks Washington lags many other states in passing effective laws with a proven record of saving the lives of teens. At the same time, a research foundation with a familiar name offers startling statistics to prove the point.

We have plenty of bragging rights for road safety

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety brings together groups that push for safer roads. Its members are from the insurance industry and consumer, medical and public health non-profits that push for life-saving changes for laws and programs.

Its latest report gives Washington above average and sometimes stellar marks for laws that keep Washingtonians alive, including our motorcycle helmet laws and child car seat laws.

But as an article from Washington State Patrol points out, our laws for teen drivers damaged our standing.

Our teen driver laws are middle-of-the-road

Washington has a special license for young drivers starting at 16 years old. It lets them drive without adult supervision, except between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

For the first six months, the teen cannot have any passengers who non-family members less than 20 years old.

To an adult driver, these restrictions may seem strong and prudent. To understand why our state patrol, as well as this advocacy group, wants tighter restrictions, consider a hard look at the data in a recent report from the AAA Foundation. Founded in 1947, and a separate outfit from the auto club, it does research and education on traffic safety.

Close look at hard data supports tighter licensing

Their study reveals that, compared to car crashes where a teen driver is alone in the car, crashes with a teen driver and exclusively teen passengers are 51% more likely to kill someone.

Keep in mind that this “someone” may be the driver or passengers, but they might be pedestrians, bicyclists, or people in another car.

When a teen driver is involved in a crash, the overall death rate for that crash drops by 8% when even one person over 35 years old is also in the teen’s car. The death rate of teen drivers themselves involved in crashes drops by 61%.