Released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association, research showed that the numbers of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths in passenger vehicles in the United States were higher for the first six months of 2012 than in the first six months of 2011.
“Deaths of 16-year-olds increased from 86 to 107 (24 percent), and deaths of 17-year-olds increased from 116 to 133 (15 percent). For both ages combined there was a 19 percent increase in driver deaths. Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for all of 2012 will not be available until the latter part of 2013, but the preliminary data signal that the strong downward trend in 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths that was occurring in recent years has ended, and — in fact — may have reversed course,” the Teenage Driver Fatalities by State study read.
In Georgia the year-over change showed a decrease of one death, from six in the first half of 2011 to five in the same period of 2012.
Specifics on the last 16- or 17-year-old driver death in Bartow County were not available from the Georgia State Patrol, which works each fatal accident in the county.
“We do not see any crashes in that age range. For Bartow, there are two teen fatalities where they were the driver going back to early 2010,” a GSP spokesperson said. “One was [July 24, 2010] at 4:15 p.m. on Griffin Road involving Victoria Brittany Quinn, age 19; the other was [Oct. 6, 2012] at 4:10 a.m. on Industrial Park Road involving Caleb Donovan Thacker, age 19.”
For Alan Brown, who lost his 17-year-old son Joshua in 2003, education is key to preventing teen fatalities.
“It’s critical. If we want them to become scientists, we teach them science. If we want them to become mathematicians, we teach them math. If we want them to be engineers, we teach them geometry. If we want them to be writers, we teach them English. We know that they are going to be drivers. Why in the world would we not teach them driving?” said the chairman of the Joshua Brown Foundation.
Effective in 2007, Joshua’s Law requires all 16 year-olds applying for a Class D driver’s license to complete an approved driver education course and complete a total of 40 hours of supervised driving, six hours of which must be at night, with a parent or guardian’s sworn verification that these requirements have been met, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Any Georgia resident who has not completed an approved driver education course must be at least 17 years old to be eligible for a Class D driver’s license. He or she must have completed a total of at least 40 hours of supervised driving, including at least six hours at night. The same verification in writing by a parent or guardian is required.
The GHSA reported that driver deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds dropped by almost half from 2007 to 2010, something Brown said was seen in Georgia.
“What we should gather from that study is this: Fatalities are on the rise in this country. Georgia leads the pack in teen fatality reductions, so what is Georgia doing that other states are not doing? And the answer is Joshua’s Law,” he said. “As a state, since the inception of Joshua’s Law, teen fatalities are down 50 percent, 50. That’s amazing, and we’ve only put the Cartersville-type program in 147 high schools and there’s 416 high schools. We are a third of the way there and we’ve lowered the fatalities by 50 percent — that’s pretty cool.”
The increase for the nation may be attributed to legislation and outside factors like the economy.
“Based on data for the first six months of 2011, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported increases in deaths; fatalities for the full year increased by 10 percent among 16-year-old drivers between 2010 and 2011, and stayed about the same for 17-year-olds. Combining both ages, driver deaths increased for the first time since 2002,” the report stated. “The decreases in 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths that occurred from 2003 to 2010 have been attributed to the introduction and strengthening of state graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems that took place throughout this period, and to the economic downturn in 2008-2009, which particularly affected the youngest drivers. The stoppage and reversal of this downward trend in 2011 and 2012 is presumably related to the partial economic recovery that has taken place. In addition, the pace of state legislation further strengthening GDL systems has slowed since 2010, which may also be a contributing factor.”
But Brown isn’t so sure.
“I don’t buy the economy thing. I think 16-year-olds are going to drive. I remember being 16 — I would drive to the mailbox. Anytime I could drive, I did. I think kids still do that, so I don’t buy the whole economy thing so much,” he said. “What I think is, as a nation, we get complacent. For instance, as a nation, we had a few years with teen fatalities were falling — never to the extent of what Georgia has been. Never have they fallen 50 percent.
“I think the ... graduated licensing caused that. But you got to remember the GDL doesn’t teach them anything. All it does is take them off the streets for six months. What happens when those six months are up? You still got the same driver who’s not educated. I think we get complacent as a country and we say, ‘Well, the GDL is fixing it. The teen fatalities are falling.’ And then all of sudden it’s not working like it did, and the reason it’s not working is you still have an uneducated driver. I think Joshua’s Law is the answer, and that’s a problem in itself, getting the state to fund it.”
Brown said funding issues have arisen at the state level with only $8 million of the $93 million raised going to driver’s education.
“We have proven not only as a foundation but as a society that Joshua’s Law saves lives,” he said, adding that he has encouraged parents to contact legislators regarding the matter.
For the full report, go to www.ghsa.org/html/publications/spotlight/teens2012.html.