Teen driver deaths up in Bama

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Alabama is among five states that saw double-digit gains in the number of 16-and17-year-old driver deaths last year, according to a government report released Tuesday.

That information, which was based on the first six months of 2012, was released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association compared the number of deaths in 2012 to the same period in 2011. Overall, young teen driver deaths rose to 240 from 202 – a 19 percent jump. The report looked at 16- and 17-year-old driver fatalities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In Alabama, there were three teen drivers who died in car crashes during that period in 2011, according to the 14-page report. That number jumped to 12 in 2012, placing the state alongside Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee, who each reported double-digit losses.

In Covington County, agencies like the Children’s Policy Council Coalition sponsor safe driver campaigns.

Jessie Stephens, CPCC project coordinator, said a billboard campaign was recently expanded to include the dangers of underage drinking and drunk driving. Stephens said the state department of public safety provides location specific accident statistics, which are used on the billboards.

“That is part of our prevention billboard campaign,” Stephens said. “We currently have several billboards throughout the county in Andalusia, Florala and Red Level.

“We have a problem in this county with parents thinking it’s OK to let their child drink while under their supervision,” she said. “It’s not. It’s illegal and not a responsible decision.

“Most recently, in December, we had members of the Alabama State Troopers to come and speak to about 130 Peer Helpers from each high school in the county,” Stephens said. “Our goal was to get the youth involved from a public safety aspect,” she said. “Troopers talked to the students about how to be a safe driver and gave safety guidelines.”

Trooper Kevin Cook said the agency sponsors a number of driver safety and distracted diving programs for teenagers, while area law enforcement agencies routinely perform the same at area schools. A large focus is put on the dangers of texting while driving.

In the report, 25 states reported increases; 17 had decreases, and eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change in the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths.

Florida and North Carolina had substantial drops in deaths in 2012, while Washington went from 6 deaths to zero.

The report – the first state-by-state look at teen driver fatalities in 2012 – was completed by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who formerly served as chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Traffic deaths nationally increased by 8 percent, according to the report.

“It is particularly concerning that 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths appear to have increased at an even greater rate,” Williams said.

He attributes much of the increase to the leveling off of state driving programs, and the fact that more teens are driving due to an improved economy. Williams stresses that while the news is not good, deaths in this age group remain at a historically low level.

“We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier,” he said. “However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year.”