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U.S. Teen Driving Deaths Up: Report

THURSDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The number of American teens who lost their lives in car accidents jumped 11 percent in the first half of 2011, the first increase in eight years, a new report finds.

Although overall traffic fatalities fell during the first half of 2011, deaths for 16- and 17-year-olds rose from 190 to 211, according to the report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

"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. More work can and should be done to save teen lives," report author Allan Williams, formerly the chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a GHSA statement.

To compile the report, Williams pored over data from GHSA member groups.

At the same time, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released numbers suggesting that total motor vehicle deaths for people of any age during the first six months of 2011 had dropped 0.9 percent.

However, in the GHSA report, deaths among 16-year-old drivers went up from 80 to 93 (a 16 percent rise), while deaths among 17-year-olds rose from 110 to 118 (7 percent).

Among the states, 23 reported jumps in teen traffic deaths, 19 states had decreases and eight states plus the District of Columbia saw no change, according to the report.

Although for most states the increases in teen traffic deaths was small, for Florida, Texas and North Carolina, there were significant increases, Williams found.

GHSA chairman Troy Costales noted in the statement: "While it is good news that overall deaths [for people of any age] 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."

Williams speculated that much of the increase may be due to the leveling off of initial benefits from states' Graduated Driver Licensing laws, since these laws have now been around for a while.

In addition, the economy may be a factor -- putting more teens behind the wheel and thus increasing their risk for fatal accidents.

And, Costales said, "As the report notes, a widespread strengthening of laws is still possible and finding effective tools outside of Graduated Driver Licensing is an important goal. These include improving driver education and involving parents in proactively establishing safe driving habits for their teens," he added.

"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," Costales said. "As parents, we must set and enforce strict rules for our new drivers, making sure risks are minimized. This includes limiting other teens in the car, limiting nighttime driving and absolutely prohibiting any type of cellphone or electronic device use while driving."

Barbara Harsha, GHSA executive director, also believes that states need more federal help to save more teen lives.

"As part of the upcoming highway reauthorization bill, Congress should provide financial incentives to states that have strengthened or will strengthen teen driving laws," she said in the statement.

Specifically, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the states should get funding to carry out "distracted driving" campaigns aimed at teen drivers who may be texting, phoning or simply carrying on with friends while driving, Harsha added.

"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," she said.

More information

For more information on safe teen driving, visit the National Safety Council.

-- Steven Reinberg

SOURCE: Governors Highway Safety Association statement, Feb. 16, 2012

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