Teen driver deaths are on the rise (sylvar, Flickr).
The number of teen drivers dying behind the wheel is on track to increase for the first time in more than eight years, according to a study released Thursday.

Researches from the Governors Highway Safety Association report an 11 percent overall increase during the first six months of 2011, the latest period for which data was available. The percentage of 16-year-olds killed spiked by 16 percent while the percentage of 17-year-olds killed rose by 7 percent.

The study comes weeks after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected a 0.9 percent overall decrease in the number of traffic fatalities for 2011.

"While it's good news that overall deaths appear to have declined during the first six months of 2011, we are concerned that the trend with teens is going in the opposite direction," said Troy E. Costales, chairman of the GHSA, a nonprofit organization used by states to improve traffic safety and influence national policy.

Final statistics for 2011 will not be available for at least six months, according to Jonathan Adkins, a spokesperson for GHSA. But historically, the summer months that have yet to be counted tend to account for larger numbers of teen deaths. If the trend holds, it will mark the first time in eight years the number of teen drivers killed has risen.

Dr. Allan Williams, who authored the study, suggests improving economic circumstances have contributed to an overall increase in teen driving, and thereby increasing their risk.

The number of deaths among 16- and 17-year-olds rose to 211 in the first six months of 2011, up from 190 in 2010. Although there is concern about the increase, experts note the number is still historically low, considering it was at 254 in the first six months of 2009.

There was no direct correlation in the study between the increase and use of cell phones for either talking or texting, but those factors remain an ongoing concern.

"As parents, we must set and enforce strict rules for our new drivers, making sure risks are minimized," Costales said. "This includes limiting other teens in the car, limiting nighttime driving and absolutely prohibiting any type of cell phone or electronic device use while driving."

Twenty-three states revealed an increase in the number of teen deaths. Nineteen states had declines and eight had no change.

Texas suffered the most teen deaths with 26 in the first six months of 2011, followed by North Carolina (17) and Florida (15). Among the states suffering the biggest increases were Illinois (up 8 from 2010's pace to 12 overall), Missouri (up 7 to 10 overall) and Florida and North Carolina, which were both up six.

Eight states reported zero deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds during the first six months of 2011. Alabama enjoyed the biggest decrease, losing seven fewer drivers in the time period, followed by Georgia which was four behind last year's pace.

"While it is not a surprise that these numbers are stabilizing or slightly increasing, states should not accept these deaths as something that cannot be prevented," Williams said. "More work can and should be done to save teen lives."


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