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Using a small pool of data collected in the first half of 2012, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (“GHSA”) out of Washington, D.C. today published a report indicating that deaths of teen drivers jumped sharply in the first half of 2012. The GHSA says their data — which looks solely at how many teens caused their own death and not at fatalities involving passengers, people in other vehicles or pedestrians — is a good indicator of teen behavior behind the wheel.

Preliminary data from GHSA shows that deaths of 16 and 17 year-old drivers are up 19 percent as compared to the first six months of 2011 and that the strong downward trend in 16 and 17 year-old driver deaths that was occurring in recent years has ended, and – in fact – may have reversed course. Despite the recent increase, however, keep in mind that the number of 16 to 17 year-old drivers killed is still at a low point historically.

For those of you traditionalists, please note that the most recent national annual statistics are from 2011, based on a compilation of data by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and that the first annual compilation for 2012 will not be available until the latter part of 2013 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Although we will have to await those “official” statistics, given the GHSA study and the 2011 statistics and trends from IIHS referenced below, I suggest we err on the side of caution and continue to try to find better ways to reduce teen deaths:

  • 3,023 teens between the ages of 13-19 died in motor vehicle crashes;
  • About 2 out of every 3 teenagers killed were males;
  • Teenage drivers accounted for 10 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths;
  • Teenage passengers comprised 11 percent of all vehicle occupant deaths;
  • Of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths, 80% were passenger vehicle occupants;
  • 59% of those deaths occurred in vehicles being driven by another teenager;
  • Among teenage drivers ages 16-19 involved in fatal crashes, 49% were involved in single car crashes;
  • 53% of motor vehicle crash deaths among teenagers occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday;
  • Teenage crash deaths occurred most frequently from 9pm to midnight and midnight to 3am.

In the GHSA study it is presumed that the recent increase in teen driver deaths is somewhat related to the partial economic recovery that has taken place, leading to more teens on the road and greater exposure to risk. The study also notes that distracted driving is a particular problem for teenagers given their inexperience combined with their high dependence on electronic equipment and frequent travel with peer passengers. Upgraded passenger restrictions enacted by State governments have helped address the distraction problem, but the more popular approach by State legislatures seems to be enacting cell phone and texting restrictions. There are no solid statistics yet as to the success of these efforts.

In my opinion, it is more important for safety organizations, such as EndDD (End Distracted Driving), to continue to intensify their efforts to educate our teens about the dangers of distracted driving. EndDD, with which we have become involved as trial lawyers and members of The Injury Board, is dedicated to inspiring individuals and communities to take action to end distracted driving. EndDD continues to further its efforts by partnering with State trial lawyer associations and has recently welcomed our very own New York State Trial Lawyers Association. As personal injury lawyers, we all need to remain or get more involved in such programs to educate our teens and help to keep them safe on our roads.

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