Figures recently released by the Governors' Highway Safety Association indicate that Tennessee is No. 1 in the country (tied with Indiana) for the most teen car accident fatalities.
Our Knoxville car accident lawyers know that this is a distinction desired by no one. More must be done to curb this troubling rise, though it's worth noting the same pattern was recorded nationwide. Overall in the U.S., teen traffic fatalities rose from 201 in the first six months of 2011 to 240 in the first six months of 2012. That's a nearly 20 percent increase.
In Tennessee, we reported nearly three times as many fatalities, from six teen fatalities in the first six months of 2011 to 16 in the first six months of last year. In all, the teen fatality numbers increased in 25 states, saw a decrease in 17 states and saw no change at all in eight states. Of those that increased, six states - including Tennessee - did so by more than five deaths, which is statistically significant.
This represents a shift in the trend we have seen recent years. Officials had hoped that graduated driver's license programs, bans on behind-the-wheel texting and cell phone use for teens, and awareness initiatives were working to turn the tide. But it doesn't appear to be enough, as ever-evolving technology means that distractions remain a top problem for teens behind the wheel. Additionally, the report indicates, far too many 16-and-17-year-old drivers and passengers aren't wearing their seat belts.
We may also have the economy to blame for some of it. Improvements mean that more teens have access to jobs, which means spare cash which translates to gas money. More teens are on the road when the economy is growing.
The number of fatalities involving 16-year-old drivers compared to 17-year-old drivers was about the same. The report indicated that in the first half of 2011, there were 107 16-year-old driver fatalities, compared to 116 involving 17-year-old drivers. In the first half of 2012, there were 86 fatalities involving 16-year-old drivers, versus 133 involving 17-year-old drivers.
More definitive data will show annual trends and is expected to be released later this year.
Jacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, has been quoted as saying that the results of this study should be a strong motivator for governors and state legislators to push and approve stricter teen driving laws.
It appears that such measures do actually make a difference. In 2000, there were more than 430 drivers age 16 who were killed that year. That figure had been slashed to less than 175 by 2011. Same thing with 17-year-old drivers, of whom about 565 died in traffic crashes in 2000, compared to 250 total in 2011.
While legislators have an important role in this, parents do too. Set a good example for your teen driver by obeying all local driving laws and refraining from cell phone use or texting while you're driving. Spend time with your child - up to 100 hours in the car, with your teen behind the wheel - teaching him or her how to drive. Give him constructive critiques and teach him to keep his temper in check. Set and stick to consequences for bad behind-the-wheel behavior.