[GHSA] – A report released Monday by the Governors Highway Safety Association reveals that the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths in passenger vehicles increased slightly for the first six months of 2011, based on preliminary data supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Overall, 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths increased from 190 to 211 – an 11 percent increase. If the trend continued for the second half of 2011, it will mark the end of eight straight years of cumulative declines in deaths for this age group.
Note: According to the report, fatalities among 16- and 17-year-old drivers in California during the first six months of 2010 and the first six months of 2011 remained unchanged at 7.
The new report – the first state-by-state look at teen fatalities in 2011 – was completed by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who formerly served as chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Dr. Williams surveyed GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for every state and D.C. The report comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a statistical projection suggesting that total motor vehicle deaths for the first six months of 2011 declined 0.9 percent.
Deaths of 16-year-old drivers increased from 80 to 93 (16 percent) while the number for 17-year-olds went from 110 to 118 (7 percent), a cumulative increase of 11 percent. Twenty-three states reported increases, 19 had decreases, and eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change. While the changes in state-by-state fatality numbers generally are small, states such as Florida, Texas and North Carolina reported significant increases.
Dr. Williams attributes much of the increase to the fact that the benefit of state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws may be leveling off, as most of these laws have been in place for some time. Additionally, Dr. Williams speculates that improving economic conditions are contributing to an increase in teen driving, thus increasing their exposure to risk. Dr. Williams notes, “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.”
Troy E. Costales, Chairman of GHSA, said, “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,” He continued, “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.”
Chairman Costales 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. 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 cell phone or electronic device use while driving.”
Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of GHSA, said states could use federal support 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. 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.” 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.”
About the GHSA
The Governors Highway Safety Association is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Contact GHSA at 202-789-0942 or visit www.ghsa.org. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GHSAhq or follow us on Twitter at @GHSAHQ.