Increase In Teen Driver Deaths In 2012: The Facts Behind The Stats

February 25, 2013

In a first state-by-state look at teen driver deaths in 2012, the preliminary numbers aren’t good. In fact, teen deaths jumped 19 percent overall for the first six months of 2012. The statistics come from a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

The report, Teenage Driver Fatalities by State, authored by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who formerly served as chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), is based on preliminary data provided by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Teen driver deaths jump 19 percent - GHSA

Teen driver deaths jump 19 percent - GHSA

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Highlights of the report:

  • Deaths of 16-year-olds increased 24 percent – from 86 to 107 deaths
  • Deaths of 17-year-olds increased 15 percent – from 116 to 130 deaths
  • 25 states reported increases; 17 reported decreases; 8 states and the District of Columbia reported no change in the number of 16- and 17-year old driver deaths
  • Six states – Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee had deaths increase by more than five
  • Two states showed double-digit increases in teen driver deaths: Indiana (+13) and Tennessee (+10)
  • Florida and North Carolina showed substantial drops in teen driver deaths, down nine and eight, respectively
  • Washington went from six deaths to zero

Teen driver deaths 2000-2012 - GHSA

Teen driver deaths 2000-2012 - GHSA

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Causes for the increase?

Dr. Williams attributes much of the increase to the fact that the benefit of state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws may be leveling off and notes that most have been in place for some time. He further speculates that improving economic conditions have contributed to more teens driving, thus increasing their risk exposure.

Kenneth Poole, Chairman of GHSA and Director of the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office, said in a release that “any increase in highway deaths is unacceptable, particularly among our teens.” As Tennessee is the state reporting the greatest increase in teen driver deaths during the first six months of 2012, “these numbers are a cause for concern.”   

Poole added that advances in technology may be partly to blame. “We suspect distracted driving deaths among teen drivers are rising. We continue to work with teens, parents, educators and law enforcement to address this problem.”

Poole further notes that strengthening laws and using tools outside of GDL should be a focus. These include making improvements to driver education and ensuring that new drivers have access to scientifically-based educational programs.

Dr. Williams stresses that while the news of increased teen driver deaths isn’t good, the numbers are still at a low point historically. “We are still at a much better place than we were ten or even five years earlier.” In the first six months of 2007, there were 147 and 244 deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers, respectively. In the same period of 2002, the numbers were 239 and 305 for 16- and 17-year-old teen drivers, respectively.

To view the full report, Teenage Driver Fatalities by State, available in PDF format, click here.

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