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GHSA: Teen driver deaths see first nationwide increase in 10 years

Every year, motor vehicle accidents are responsible for more teen fatalities than any other cause of death. While every young person's death is tragic, car accident fatalities are particularly troubling because nearly all of them could have been prevented had the at-fault driver been better focused on safety.

For years, safety officials have been working to reduce teen driver death rates. For the most part, they have succeeded — nationwide, teen driver fatalities have fallen every year for the better part of the last decade. Unfortunately, the years-long decline appears to have come to an end in 2012. According to recently released data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen driver fatalities grew by 19 percent during the first half of 2012, when compared to the same period in 2011.

For its part, Wisconsin registered six teen driver deaths during the first half of 2012, compared with four during the first half of 2011. This number does not include teens killed as pedestrians or motor vehicle passengers.

Distracted driving plays a major role

There have always been dangers associated with teen driving, largely because young people don't have the skills and experience necessary to consistently make good decisions behind the wheel. However, the advent of the smartphone has made teen driving all the more risky, now that so many teenagers are using their cellphones to send text messages, talk and surf the web while driving.

A lot of the risk comes from the fact that many teens do not understand just how dangerous distracted driving can be. They are so used to using their cellphones that they don't think to stop when they get behind the wheel.

In reality, though, using a cellphone while driving is nothing short of perilous. According to information published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting while driving makes a driver 23 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident. This is because sending or reading a text takes a driver's attention off the road for almost five seconds — at highway speeds, a vehicle can travel more than 300 feet during this time period.

Using a cellphone to talk isn't necessarily any safer. Using a cellphone while driving — whether handheld or hands-free — diminishes the amount of brain power used for driving by a staggering 37 percent.

Taking responsibility for teen safety

Wisconsin has been working hard to reduce the number of teen traffic fatalities, and has instituted a graduated driver's licensing program in an effort to keep teens safe by gradually introducing them to the privilege of driving. However, it is important to recognize that the state can only do so much to keep teens safe.

At the end of the day, teens need to take personal responsibility for their own safe driving habits. This means being mature enough to put their phones away and focus on the road.

When an accident is caused by driver negligence, Wisconsin law gives injured victims the right to seek financial damages in personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits can provide compensation for a number of losses, including medical bills, lost income and pain and suffering.

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