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States with the highest death rates for teen drivers

By Posted : 09/25/2013

diverse group of teensWyoming, Montana, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia had the highest teen fatal accident rates in the country from 2007 to 2011, according to a report released this week.

There were about 16,000 teen highway deaths nationwide during the five-year period, the report revealed. That represents more than an 11 percent drop from 2006 to 2010, when about 18,000 fatalities were recorded, according to Erie Insurance, which based its study on the most recent statistics gathered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Despite the decline, the fatality rate for teenagers (age 16 to 19) is about 35 percent higher than the rate for drivers age 20 or older.

"While our numbers show the average teen driving death rate from 2007 to 2011 trending down, we've also seen preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association showing the 2012 rate creeping up," notes Karen Kraus Phillips, a vice president at Erie, in the report. "The bottom line is that one death is too many. Tens of thousands of teen injuries and deaths happen on the road every year and car crashes remain the leading cause of death for this age group."

The states with the highest rate of teen driver deaths from 2007 to 2011, according to the report, are:

  1. Wyoming -- 36.4 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists. It was also the worst state during the previous period, 2006 to 2010, with a 35.6 rate.
  2. Montana -- 31.4 deaths per 100,000 teen drivers. The rate was 34.1 from 2006 to 2010.
  3. Mississippi -- 30.1 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists. The rate was 32.3 from 2006 to 2010.
  4. A tie between Alabama and West Virginia -- both with 27.9 deaths per 100,000 teen drivers. The rate was 31.2 from 2006 to 2010 for each state.

In some cases, the states with high teen fatal crash rates overlap with the states where people drive more miles. For instance, Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Montana are all among the top 12 states in the nation with most vehicle miles traveled per capita, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics for 2010.

The study also listed states with the lowest rates:

  1. District of Columbia -- 3.5 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists. The rate was 1.7 for 2006 to 2010.
  2. New York -- 6.5 deaths per 100,000 motorists. The rate was 7.6 for 2006 to 2010.
  3. New Jersey -- 7.3 deaths per 100,000 drivers. The rate was 8.9 for 2006 to 2010.
  4. California -- 7.9 deaths per 100,000 motorists. The rate was 9.8 for 2006 to 2010.
  5. Massachusetts -- 8 deaths per 100,000 drivers. The rate was 8.8 percent for 2006 to 2010.

While the numbers are disturbing, government statistics show that highway fatalities for teenagers are about half of what they were a decade ago. Safety advocates say teen deaths have been declining, in part because many states have adopted graduated driver licensing laws (GDLs).

These programs phase in driving experience for younger drivers, allowing beginners to sharpen skills under lower-risk driving situations first, before they move on to more complex conditions. Also, laws regulating texting and other distractions adopted by many states have contributed to the drop.

But Erie and others believe more needs to be done. Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says many states -- including Mississippi, Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota -- should implement or improve their existing GDLs.

Parents need to help guide teen drivers

Beyond GDL programs, parents and their kids should consider these Erie recommendations:

  • Don't only tell, show: "A recent 'Consumer Reports' survey found that 48 percent of young drivers witnessed their mother or father talking on a handheld phone while driving -- and another 15 percent witnessed a parent texting while behind the wheel," according to Erie's website. "Your teen is looking to you for cues, so be a role model and put down the phone."
  • Focus on your state's driving laws: "States are increasingly banning phone use while driving," Erie notes. "So while your teen driver should have a hands-off phone policy because it's the right thing to do, penalties for getting caught could serve as an extra incentive."
  • Put it in writing with your teen: The insurer has a free, downloadable "safe driving contract" to discuss with a young driver at its Join the Shift site.
  • Let them know what not to do: Don't only point out good driving habits; also, emphasize the bad ones that teens need to avoid.

Car insurance discounts for teen drivers

The parent-teen driving contract may also get you a small discount, usually less than 5 percent, on your insurance premiums. Here are some other ways you can reduce the bill:

  • Good student discount -- generally up to 10 percent.
  • Extra driving class discount -- 5 percent.
  • Get a safer car -- insurers typically charge lower premiums for autos with high safety ratings.
  • Distant student discount -- generally from 5 to 10 percent.
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