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2012 shows spike in teen driver deaths

With the improving economy, home sales and jobs have shown some improvement. But as people have jobs to drive to and money to spend, there is likely to be one area where the improvements will mean more serious injuries and death: motor vehicle accidents and fatalities. Already, preliminary numbers from the Governors Highway Safety Association indicate an alarming increase in fatalities for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

In the first half of 2012, traffic fatalities rose 19 percent. The increase for 16-year-old drivers alone was 24 percent, while the rate for 17-year-olds increased 15 percent. While this is preliminary data, there is no indication that the forces causing the increase would have changed during the second half of 2012, which would result in the first increase in motor vehicle fatalities for these drivers in 8 years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nationwide traffic deaths increased eight percent during the same period. The reversal of the almost decade long decline is worrying. The use of graduated driver licensing laws has been seen as a significant factor in the decrease, but more could be done.

During the period of the greatest decline for teen drivers, many states instituted or strengthened their graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs. No state has enacted all of the most stringent provisions of the model program. It has been estimated that an additional 500 teen drivers could be saved if all states adopted these provisions.

While Texas had two fewer teen fatalities in 2012, thre is still room for improvement. California, with 12 million more residents, also reduced their teen death by two, however, their total for the year stood at four, two-thirds lower than Texas.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Deaths Surge Among Teen Drivers," Joan Lowy, Associated Press, February 26, 2013

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