Indiana was able to achieve welcome decreases in teen-driving deaths after adopting graduated drivers license laws. But it appears some of the benefits of easing teen drivers more slowly into the responsibilities associated with driving are leveling off. A recent rise in fatalities among young drivers shows that state leaders, parents and, most important, young drivers need to remain vigilant about safer driving practices.
Teen traffic deaths are on the rise throughout the nation, but Indiana has experienced the highest increase in deaths.
After several years of steady decline, preliminary data collected by the Governors Highway Safety Association show that fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers are increasing.
The report compared data from the first six months of 2011 with data from the first six months of 2012. It found a 9 percent increase in fatal accidents nationwide. There were 240 deaths in the first six months of 2012.
It also found Indiana has the highest increase in fatal crashes in the country. In 2011, there were three fatal crashes involving teenage drivers, compared to 16 last year.
While the number of teen deaths is nowhere near the numbers from more than a decade ago, it does mark the second consecutive year that researchers saw an increase. The deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds had been steadily dropping since 2002.
The increase comes at a time traffic accident deaths are up overall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates an 8 percent increase in all traffic deaths when all the numbers for 2012 are tallied
As Jeff Wiehe’s story Monday explained, there are several possible factors contributing to the increase in teen traffic accident deaths, including a leveling off of the benefits of state’s graduated driving license laws, the improving economy and distracted driving.
As the economy has improved more teens are driving. Teens are more likely to have extra cash on hand for gas and parents are increasingly able to help fund the purchase of a car.
Driver distraction is quite likely another contributing factor. The Governors Highway Safety Association report did not include data about the involvement of distracted driving, but a recent study from the National Safety Council found the number of crash deaths involving drivers using phones is seriously underreported. However, that study was looking at traffic accidents involving drivers of any age, not just teenagers.
The safety council study found strong evidence that 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011 involved a driver using a cellphone. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s accident database listed only half of those accidents as involving a cellphone.
Many people, but teenagers specifically, are habitually attached to their cell phones.
The study shows that graduated drivers licenses were a good start, but that the work of improving teen driving safety is not done.