Tennessee Ranks 6th in Teen Driving Deaths

June 30, 2009

A study of teen fatality rates by an insurance company shows Tennessee remains one of the deadliest states for drivers in that age group.

According to the study conducted by Allstate, Tennessee ranked sixth in the nation for driving deaths, and the Nashville region was fourth among 50 metropolitan areas.

The study, which was based on 2000-06 numbers and released last month, cited speeding and lack of seat belt use as the most common problems, The Tennessean reported.

Safety officials and researchers said the lack of mandatory driver training, poor seat belt use and texting while driving contribute to the problem. Tennessee’s narrow and winding rural roadways also can be deadly for inexperienced drivers.

“We need better driving training,” said Kendell Poole of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. “If we had mandatory driver education, we would be able to reduce teen fatalities across the state.”

Irwin Goldzweig, an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, said a flaw in the state’s graduated license law is that it doesn’t mandate driver education to address teens’ behaviors and teach them about risks.

Tennessee’s law allows teens to get a learner’s permit at 15 and drive until 10 p.m.

“Driver education is essential,” Goldzweig said. “It is like kindergarten, you have to have it because it provides the basic essentials.”

When there is a fatal crash and a teenager is driving, that driver is a boy more than two-thirds of the time, according to Allstate’s report.

“The young people with the highest risk groups are young men, African-American males, students with academic difficulties, students who drank and drove,” Goldzweig said. “These are the groups we need to reach out to in the community.”

Overall, Tennessee driving fatalities have been down the past two years. Teen drivers were involved in 10 fatal crashes in the state as of June 12, compared with 72 total last year.

Last year, a total of 1,033 Tennesseans were killed in traffic crashes.

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