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Research Sees Decline In Fatal Teen Car Crashes

October 22, 2010

Fatal car accidents involving teenage drivers have declined by nearly 33 percent over the past five years, according to a new federal report which gives some credit to tougher state limits on younger drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the number of teenage deaths tied to accidents dropped dramatically from 2,200 in 2004 to 1,400 in 2008.

The CDC study looked at accidents with drivers who were either 16 or 17 years old. In the five-year span there were more than 9,600 such accidents with more than 11,000 deaths.

CDC officials credit a range of factors for the gradual decline in fatal car crashes over the past five years, including safer cars with airbags and highway improvements.

But some experts say the chief reason is that most states have been passing new tougher laws, curbing when teens can drive and when they can carry passengers.

Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told the Associated Press (AP) it’s not that teenagers are becoming safer, “it’s that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations,” such as driving at night or with other teens in the car, he said.

Graduated driver’s licensing programs began appearing in 1996 and 49 of the 50 US states have them. Some are more restrictive than others, which may be one reason why fatality rates vary by state, said Rader.

The CDC found that the highest death rate occurred in Wyoming, with 60 traffic fatalities per 100,000 drivers in the 16- to 17-year-old age group. New York and New Jersey, which have harsh driving restrictions on teens, had the lowest rates, at about 10 per 100,000.

New Jersey bans kids from driving until they are 17, and teens in New York are not allowed to drive until they are 18. Wyoming laws are more lenient, allowing teens to drive until 11 pm, while other states force them off the roads at 9 pm, Radar noted.

The overall decline in fatal crashes among teens is an extension of a longer-term downward trend. Rates of fatal accidents involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers have declined by more than half since 1996 — 36 per 100,000 in 1996 to 16.7 per 100,000 in 2008.

The study, taking from national and state-based data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that, from 2004 to 2008, 65 percent (6,280) of 16- to 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes were male, while 35 percent (3,364) were female.

The study also found that 37 percent of the fatalities involving 16- to 17-year-olds, were the driver themselves, 31 percent were passengers of young drivers, 18 percent were drivers of other vehicles, and 7 percent were passengers of other drivers. An additional 7 percent were other road users such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

Parental involvement is also a key factor that can help prevent teen traffic fatalities. Parents should set and enforce their rules of teen driving; restricting them from nighttime driving and the number of teen passengers they are allowed to drive with. They should also put these rules into writing with a parent-teen safe driving agreement.

The CDC is launching a new campaign, “Parents Are the Key,” to inform parents around the country about the key role they can play in keeping teen drivers safe.

“Teen drivers are nearly four times more likely than more experienced drivers to crash, largely due to teens’ lack of driving experience,” said Dr. Grant Baldwin, director of the CDC’s injury prevention and control center.

“Proven measures, including GDL and parental involvement, can reduce the toll of deaths and injuries among teen drivers and protect the lives of others who share the road with these new drivers,” Baldwin told AP.

CDC is also releasing “Policy Impact: Teen Driver Safety,” the first in a series of briefs highlighting a key public health issue and important, science-based policy actions that can be taken to address it.

By making new resources available, the CDC hopes to provide parents, policymakers and others with proven ways to keep teen drivers safe. CDC’s injury center works diligently to protect the safety of everyone on the road, every day.

The report is being published this week in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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