Teen Driver Fatalities Jumped in Early 2012 | Edmunds

Teen Driver Fatalities Jumped in Early 2012

Just the Facts:
  • Teen driver fatalities were up 19 percent for the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, according to a new study.
  • From 2011 to 2012 the number of fatalities among 16- and 17-year-old drivers increased from 202 to 240 during the six-month time frame.
  • Reasons for the upward trend, according to the association, include an increase in teen drivers on the road and the leveling off of benefits from graduated-licensing programs in many states.

WASHINGTON — A new study by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that traffic fatalities among young teen drivers increased by 19 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

If the association's data for the remainder of the year follow this trend, 2012 would be the second straight year of increases in teen driver deaths after eight years of declining fatalities.

Based on information collected from all U.S. states and the District of Columbia, the study found that the number of 16- and 17-year-olds killed in passenger vehicles climbed from 202 nationwide in the first six months of 2011 to 240 for the same period in 2012. Data for the full year will not be available until later in 2013, but the association said its preliminary findings signal that "the strong downward trend in 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths that was occurring in recent years has ended, and — in fact — may have reversed course."

According to the study, 25 states reported increased fatalities in this age group, 17 had decreases, while eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change from the prior year. In six states, deaths increased by more than five: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The two states with the largest increases over 2011 were Indiana with 13 and Tennessee with 10.

Those are the statistics, but the question is, why are we seeing this jump in deaths among young drivers? Although analysts say it's difficult to know for certain, the association cites two likely factors: an increase in the number of teens on the road due to the improving U.S. economy, and the leveling off of initial benefits from graduated-licensing programs in a number of states.

Graduated-driver licensing, in which new drivers gradually gain more privileges as they build experience, may be one solution to the problem. The implementation of such programs is said to be at least partially responsible for significant decreases in teen fatalities from 2007-'10. The study suggests that expanding GDL and enforcing compliance could play an important part in recapturing that earlier trend.

Another recommendation is to improve basic driver-education programs, including the adoption of new curricula and testing procedures that have been developed and endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). According to the study, five states adopted a new NHTSA driver-assessment tool in 2012, and others plan to do so in 2013.

In addition to updated training and testing methods, Barbara Harsha, executive director of the GHSA, cites the importance of involving parents in driver education.

"Parents have a huge responsibility to ensure safe teen driving behavior," she said. "States can facilitate this by providing innovative programs that bring parents and teens together around this issue."

Although the GHSA findings are not good news, the study's author, Dr. Allan Williams, former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pointed out: "We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier. However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year."

Edmunds says: The new study reveals that work needs to be done to ensure adequate training for young drivers, and this, along with graduated licensing initiatives, may provide an opportunity to reverse this disturbing trend.

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