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Teen Motor Vehicle Accidents Down Nationwide, Despite Recent Fatalities

Good news and bad news about teen car accidents in Ohio

A terrible car accident in Warren, Ohio, this past spring runs counter to statistics that show fatal crashes among teen drivers have declined in recent years. The Warren crash killed six teens. On the same day, a fatal accident in Texas killed five and the next day a crash in Illinois ended the lives of four .

Although overall teen deaths in motor vehicle accidents are down, deaths among young teen drivers grew by 19 percent in the first six months of 2012. Nationally, there were 435 16-year-old drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2000. This number declined to 173 by 2011. Fatalities among 17-year-old-drivers went from 564 to 25o in the same time period.

One reason for the decrease, according to experts, is more restrictions on teen drivers. More states have limits on the number of passengers and the time when novice drivers can be on the road.

Ohio, for example, has a probationary licensing program that prohibits drivers under the age of 17 from driving with more than one person who is not a family member without the driver's parent or guardian. Studies show that the risk of a fatal accident increases with each additional passenger.

Another feature of Ohio's licensing program is that drivers between 17 and 18 years old cannot drive between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5 AM, with some exceptions, such as work, emergencies and school activities. Drivers under 17 are further restricted to 12:00 AM and 6:00 AM.

Another reason for the decrease in teen drivers, is that fewer American teenagers are getting driver's licenses. The decrease in young drivers may be a by-product of Internet use, according to some. Young users of Facebook and chat services have less need to leave home to visit with friends and may feel less of a need to drive. The trend toward fewer driver's licenses is also seen among younger people in their 20s who may be able to work remotely and thus not need to drive as much.

Despite the encouraging numbers overall, sobering statistics abound. Motor vehicle crashes are the primary cause of death for young people. Drivers age 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident per mile driven, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young people age 16-24 are only 14 percent of the U.S. population. However, this age group accounts for 30 percent of the cost of motor vehicle accidents.

Young male drivers are at most risk for accidents. Other high risk groups among teen drivers are those who drive at night and those who have other teen passengers in the vehicles. Ohio's probationary licensing program addresses the issues of passengers and late night driving. However, it does not deal proactively with young men who may hurt themselves and others when they drive.