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Teen-Involved Traffic Deaths Rise 10 Percent

CARS.COM — Crash fatalities are on a disturbing upswing, and some of the youngest drivers on the road are at heightened risk. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that teen-involved traffic deaths went up 10 percent in 2015, bucking a decadelong downward trend.

Related: What Are the Best and Worst States for Teen Drivers?

The news comes amid a rather alarming resurgence in driving deaths across the board. Earlier this year, the National Safety Council estimated that traffic fatalities in 2015 increased 8 percent over 2014, marking the largest year-over-year spike in 50 years and the deadliest year on U.S. roads since 2008. Meanwhile, early estimates by the Federal Highway Administration for the first half of 2016 put the death toll at more than 10 percent over the same period the previous year.

The GHSA said that "while much progress has been made in reducing teen driver-involved traffic crashes over the past decade, teen drivers are still 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than their adult counterparts, and teen-involved crash deaths spiked 10 percent in 2015."

While it may not come as a surprise that younger drivers are the age group with one of the biggest surges in crash deaths, the specific age breakdown may not be what you expect. It's actually the older teens who are having the biggest problem.

According to the GHSA report — co-funded by Ford and examining National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System data from 2005-14 — crash rates among 18- to 20-year-olds are showing less improvement than 15- to 17-year-olds. Moreover, older teens have been involved in more deadly collisions than younger ones of late.

Among nearly a dozen recommendations by the report to improve crash stats for younger drivers, GHSA urges states to expand their graduated driver licensing programs to include all drivers younger than 21. Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study showing that the stricter a state's GDL program, the lower rate of teen driving deaths.

All 50 states have three-stage licensing programs that GHSA says reduces crash risk by as much as 30 percent, but in most states, drivers age out of GDL requirements by 18. That means the reported 1 in 3 drivers still not licensed by age 18 sidestep the graduated system, despite remaining at high crash risk through age 20.

The report's other recommendations are as follows:

  • Require all novice drivers to complete driver education and training.
  • Actively promote the benefits of older teen drivers completing a defensive driving or behind-the-wheel program.
  • Provide relatable and relevant impaired driving info to older teens each time they visit a licensing agency to obtain a new identification card after each intermediate licensing phase of the GDL program.
  • Send an early warning letter when older teens receive their first moving violations.
  • Enact a primary seat belt law covering all vehicle occupants in all seating positions.
  • Educate parents about the importance of continuing to coach and monitor their older teen drivers.
  • Partner with colleges to promote safe driving.
  • Partner with graduating high school peer leaders to help them continue their traffic safety outreach in college.
  • Partner with law enforcement on high-visibility enforcement coupled with school-based education and media.
  • Disseminate safe driving info and messages through popular music and sports