For the first time in eight years, teen deaths are increasing as a result of car accidents in Charlotte and elsewhere in the country.
It's common knowledge that teens are at particular risk of injury or fatality behind the wheel. They tend to be more vulnerable than other age groups, simply due to their lack of experience. They also are generally more apt to take risks than older drivers, and to have a weaker grasp of the consequences of reckless driving behavior.
So the results of the Governors Highway Safety Association's recent study aren't necessarily surprising to our Charlotte car accident attorneys. Still, the statistics are disheartening.
It basically breaks down like this:
--The number of teen drivers killed on U.S. roadways in the first six months of 2011 had increased by 11 percent when compared to the year before.
--The younger the driver, the higher the chance for serious injury or death. For 17-year-old drivers, the number of fatalities rose by 7 percent. For drivers who were 16-years-old, there was a 16 percent increase in the number of deaths.
--These figures stand out in a year that showed an overall decrease in traffic fatalities, albeit a marginal dip of 0.9 percent.
--The fact that teen drivers were dying at a faster clip last year marks the end of an 8-year downward trend.
Researchers believe there could be a number of reasons for this increase. One involves the waning novelty of the graduated driver's license programs and the other, surprisingly, has to do with the economy.
First, the latter, as explained by Dr. Alan Williams of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: His conjecture is that the economy is at least partially to blame for the rising number of teen deaths. With many parents forced to work longer hours, their teens may be placed in a position to either shuttle around younger siblings or take themselves to their own destinations more frequently than before. More teens on the road means there will be more car accidents, and in turn, more fatalities.
The second factor Williams mentioned was the graduated driver's license programs. For many states, dramatic strides were seen in the months and years after these regulations were implemented. That's because the laws set forth guidelines that prohibited teens from driving at certain hours or restricted the number of teen passengers they were allowed to have. In North Carolina, for example, drivers under the age of 21 can have no more than one teen passenger in the car with them, and those who are 16 can't drive between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. But Williams said we are starting to see a tapering off of the benefits we saw immediately after these programs were put in place.
In order to halt this upward trend, researchers and advocates are recommending that we further strengthen the GDL laws, as well as provide tools for parents to open the discussion with their teens about driving dangers.