WASHINGTON -- When two 16-year-olds died in a fiery Montgomery County, Md., car crash last March, their demise might have been used as an object lesson for teenage lawlessness. On Tuesday, their deaths became part of a larger, troubling statistic.
Teenagers are dying in car crashes at a much higher rate, particularly 16- and 17-year-olds. Their death rate jumped 19 percent nationwide, with 240 killed in the first six months of last year, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
"The numbers are small but important, since we know teen drivers kill other teens and other road users," said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive directory of the GHSA. "States, the federal government and the private sector target a lot of attention and money to these young drivers, so it is logical to examine how they are doing."
News that teenage deaths rose last year appears to foreshadow data showing that overall highway deaths increased in 2012, reversing several years of decline that were credited to vehicle and highway safety improvements and crackdowns on drunken and distracted driving.
Preliminary statistics showed a 7.1 percent overall jump in the first nine months of 2012, the biggest increase over that time span since federal officials began collecting traffic death data in 1975. Although numbers for the year overall are expected to reflect a similar increase, federal officials point out that they are a comparison with 2011, when deaths reached their lowest level in more than 60 years.
"We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier," said Allan Williams, the traffic safety researcher who did the study. "However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year."
Williams said the increase in teen fatalities comes because the positive effect of state graduated-licensing laws has leveled off. Graduated licensing, which is used in most states, puts restrictions on such things as the number of passengers a teenager can carry and nighttime driving while driving skills develop.
The GHSA report showed that in the first half of 2012, deaths of 16-year-old drivers increased to 107 from 86, or 24 percent, while the number for 17-year-old drivers rose to 130 from 116, or 15 percent, a cumulative increase of 19 percent.