Teenage drivers took a sharp turn in the wrong direction during the first six months of last year.
The number of 16 and 17 year olds who died while driving went up a combined 19 percent over the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The increase in deaths among teen drivers reversed a decade-long trend toward safer driving.
Between January and June of last year, 107 16 year olds lost their lives behind the wheel, compared to 86 during the first half of 2011. Fatalities among 17-year-old drivers rose from 116 to 133.
"Despite our efforts, teens remain our most vulnerable population," said Kendall Poole, head of the Tennessee highway safety office and chairman of the safety association. "With the advances in technology, we suspect distracted driving deaths among teen drivers are rising."
Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the spike in deaths of teen drivers "should motivate governors and legislative leaders to make passage of stronger teen driving laws an urgent priority."
The report is based on preliminary state information that sometimes changes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to issue more definitive figures later this year.