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Teen fatalities rise as accident rates fall

More teenagers are dying in fewer accidents according to a study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association last week, possibly due to the smaller, quicker cars young drivers are likely to operate.
Posted: February 18, 2012 - 6:28PM
Author: Don Bain

The study revealed the number of 16 and 17-year-old fatalities in vehicular impacts increased slightly during the first six months of 2011, using preliminary data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Teen traffic fatalities were up to 211 from 190 – an increase of 11 percent. Projecting the trend through the second half of the year, may end eight consecutive years of falling fatalities in our youngest drivers.

This first look at such statistics on a state by state basis was compiled by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher and former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Dr. Williams surveyed GHSA members to obtain numbers from the states and D.C. The report comes just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a statistical projection stating total traffic fatalities decreased slightly less than one percent during the first six months of 2011.

Within the data, 23 states reported increases and fatalities decreased in 19, while eight states and the District of Columbia remained unchanged. The most significant increases were found in Florida, Texas and North Carolina.

The author lays the increase off on the fact that the initial impact of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws is leveling to a residual level. "While it is not a surprise that these numbers are stabilizing or slightly increasing, states should not accept these deaths as something that cannot be prevented, said Dr. Williams. “More work can and should be done to save teen lives."

Additionally, he thinks improving economic conditions are leading teens to put more miles on the road, thus increasing their level of risk. Then there are those quicker, more efficient little cars they are likely to be driving.

"While it is good news that overall deaths appear to have declined during the first six months of 2011, we are concerned that the trend with teens is going in the opposite direction," stated Troy E. Costales, Chairman of GHSA. "As the report notes, a widespread strengthening of laws is still possible and finding effective tools outside of GDL is an important goal. These include improving driver education and involving parents in proactively establishing safe driving habits for their teens."

Interestingly, in another study measuring parent and teen ideas about safe driving performed by AAA, parents believe their kids need more driver training, while the kids themselves want better technology to keep them safe without altering their behavior.

"As the parent of a young driver and a soon-to-be-driver, I know firsthand the pressures parents face in allowing their teens behind the wheel. As parents, we must set and enforce strict rules for our new drivers, making sure risks are minimized,’ Costales added. “This includes limiting other teens in the car, limiting nighttime driving and absolutely prohibiting any type of cell phone or electronic device use while driving."

"As part of the upcoming highway reauthorization bill, Congress should provide financial incentives to states that have strengthened or will strengthen teen driving laws, said Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of GHSA. “Additionally, Congress should provide adequate funding so that NHTSA can research and support demonstration projects to determine the most effective ways to increase teen seat belt use and compliance with GDL laws. Congress also should fund NHTSA and the states to carry out distracted driving campaigns aimed at teen drivers. Research also needs to be done to determine the impact of changing school start times so that teens are less likely to be driving fatigued."

The see the full report, including state-by-state data, click here.