Teen road deaths up 19 percent
Teen traffic deaths rose by 19 percent in the first half of 2012, according to a recent study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
The GHSA says there were 240 fatalities nationwide for 16- and 17-year-old drivers during the first six months of last year. That compares with the 202 traffic deaths for the group in the same period in 2011.
"Based on 2011 final data and the early look at 2012, it appears that we are headed in the wrong direction when it comes to deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers," says Allan Williams, the former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and author of the GHSA report.
The statistics are disturbing, says Williams and other GHSA officials, because teen deaths had been declining, in part because many states have graduated driver licensing laws (GDLs) in place. These programs phase in driving experience for younger drivers, allowing beginners to hone skills under lower-risk driving situations first, before they gradually move on to more complex conditions.
While conclusive reasons for the 19 percent jump are elusive, Williams says the improving economy -- which give teens and others the opportunity to drive more -- is likely a major factor.
Despite the increase, Williams did note that teen traffic deaths remain at historically low levels. "We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier," he says. "However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year."
Government statistics show that highway fatalities for teenagers are about half of what they were a decade ago. Safety advocates say GDLs, as well as laws regulating texting and other distractions adopted by many states, have contributed to the drop. (See: "Don't let your teen become a crash-test dummy.")
But they add that the recent jump shows more needs to be done. Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, reacted to the GHSA report by saying many states (including Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota) should implement or improve their existing GDLs.
"Teen drivers are far more likely to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks," Gillan says. "GDL programs have been effective in reducing teen crash deaths -- studies have found overall crash reductions among teen drivers of about 10 to 30 percent" in states with GDLs.
There are steps you can take to help a teen driver
Cristy Coté, a spokesperson for Erie Insurance, suggests parents work with their young drivers to ensure their safety:
- Set a good example: Cote says you need to exhibit good motoring habits, not just talk about them. She points to Erie's website, which says: "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. Your teen is looking to you for cues, so be a role model and put down the phone."
- Know the driving laws in your state: "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."
- Sign a contract with your teen: Looking for a starting point? Erie has a downloadable "safe driving contract" at its Join the Shift site.
- Tell them what not to do: Don't only point out good driving habits -- emphasize the bad ones to avoid. (See: "Wrong way! 5 outdated driving tips parents teach teens.")
Safer teens and car insurance discounts
Showing a parent-teen driving contract to your insurer may get you a small discount, usually less than 5 percent, on your premiums. Here are some other ways to trim costs:
- 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.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.