North Carolina had the second highest number of deaths in the nation during the first six months of 2011 for drivers 16 and 17 years of age, despite North Carolina's reputation as a leader in laws relating to improving the safe driving behavior of beginning drivers.
Even though nationally the total number of traffic deaths declined nearly one percent in the first six months of 2011 compared to 2010, the number of traffic deaths in North Carolina among 16 and 17 year olds increased 54%, according to a study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.
Only Texas had more deaths at 26; North Carolina had 17. Nationally, 23 states had an increase in teen deaths, up 11% over the same period last year.
North Carolina was the second state in the nation to pass a Graduated Driver License law in 1997 that requires a year-long behind-the-wheel learning experience with a parent as the first of three steps to becoming fully licensed.
“We have made great gains in past years decreasing teen driver deaths so this is somewhat of a shock,” said Tom Crosby, president of the AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The GHSA report doesn’t indicate if failure to yield, excessive speed or distracted driving impacted these numbers, but we’re certain these activities were contributors.”
One of the primary reasons for the increase in fatalities is the recovery of the U.S. economy, which is giving teens and their families more disposable income and more opportunity to drive and travel, according to the report.
Research studies in recent years have found:
• Almost nine out of 10 (86%) teenage drivers admitted driving while distracted even though 84% knew it was dangerous, according to a survey by the national AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Distractions included eating while driving, talking on a cell phone and adjusting audio controls.
• Emotional immaturity, not inexperience behind-the-wheel, is the primary reason teenage drivers are responsible for more traffic accidents than any other age demographic, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Traffic deaths are the leading killer of teenagers.
“A sensible thing to do” would be to raise the beginning age limit from 16 to 16.5 years of age before teens are allowed behind the wheel, said Rob Foss, an expert of teen driving behavior and a researcher for the North Carolina Highway Traffic Safety Research Center.
“We’re clearly not getting through to our teens about the dangers of speeding or distracted driving,” said Crosby. “Our legislators need to authorize the necessary research, in addition to the GDL programs, to reverse this unsettling trend. In-vehicle electronics and cell phone use have exploded in the past decade.”
Nationally, teen traffic deaths jumped from 190 in the first six months of 2010 to 211 in the first six months of 2011, the latest time frame for which traffic crash data is available.
If the trend continued into the second half of 2011, it would mark the reversal of long-standing yearly declines in teen driver deaths, which started with the adoption of GDL programs in the 1990s.
The full GSHA study can be viewed here.
(Information courtesy of AAA Carolinas)