Deaths up in youngest drivers

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Deaths among teen drivers has increased, according to a recent study from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Data supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia reveal the number or deaths for 16 and 17-year-old drivers is 11 percent higher than in 2010.

Westside High School senior Dylan Clark said he is not shocked that car accident death rates among his peers are increasing. "It doesn't really surprise me that much with all the distraction that could go on now with the teenagers."

Twenty-three states reported increases in teen driver deaths since 2010, 19 reported decreases and eight states and the District of Columbia had no change in statistics.

The report shows 211 sixteen and 17-year-old teen drivers died in 2011, up from 190 in 2010. Deaths in Arkansas increased from three in 2010 to four in 2011. Missouri deaths increased from four in 2010 to 6 in 2011.

Missouri reported 10 deaths in 2011, the fifth highest number after Texas (26), North Carolina (17), Florida (15), Illinois (12) and Pennsylvania (10).

Westside High School driver's education teacher Chad Soden said after teaching the course for 11 years, he is not surprised by the numbers either.

"Anybody who does something longer is going to be better at it, and that's why you see so many teenagers get in wrecks and have these fatalities because they don't have a lot of experience, but yet they want to drive faster than people with years of experience."

The report from the GHSA comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Association released a report that national motor vehicle deaths have declined overall.

The GHSA report cites a turn towards a stronger economy and weak licensing laws as reasons for the rise in deaths.

The Arkansas graduated driver licensing program allows 14-year-olds to obtain permits and drive with a person who is at least 18 years old.

"I'm a new driver and I don't know all the rules and stuff so driver's ed is just kind of helping me learn all that," said Westside High School sophomore Garrett Shackelford.

"It's been fun and coach Soden does a pretty good job of teaching us how to drive and all the proper procedures and everything."

Soden thinks part of the reason for the increase is that parents should make sure their children use driver's education classes as Shackelford does, to gain more driving experience and learn the rules of the road instead of attending the class with no driving experience.

"I think if you're a parent, I would want to be able to teach my kid everything they need to know. Maybe go out in the country, or in a parking lot and just teach them turning, signaling, how to hold their hands."

He also believes students take advantage of the system.

"You see more and more kids with hardships and they take advantage of that hardship. They not only will go to and from work, or to and from school, they'll abuse that privilege and drive out on the weekends or something like that," Soden said.

"Driving is a privilege, not a right, and it can be taken away."

The numbers reported are from the first six months of 2011.  Researchers from the study believe if the data from the second half of 2011 also show an upward trend, it would be the first time in eight years that deaths have increased for the 16 and 17-year-old age group.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.