Posted at: 02/28/2013 9:51 PM
Updated at: 02/28/2013 10:44 PM
By: John Doetkott
Teen Driving Deaths On the Rise
(ABC 6 News) -- The tragic death of 16-year-old Tess Landherr on Wednesday afternoon highlighted a growing problem in America.
For the first time in seven years, traffic fatalities across the country rose in 2012, up five percent. And for 16 and 17-year-olds, the increase was a startling 19 percent.
It's a problem some say demands our attention.
“Traffic fatalities are the number one death for teens,” said Kristine Hernandez, a Toward Zero Deaths coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “It is more than the next two or three causes of death for teens combined."
Experts said the biggest cause is just too little time behind the wheel dealing with adverse conditions.
“Well and above it's their inexperience in driving. We can show that,” Hernandez said.
But experts also said distractions, whether it's cell phones, GPS, or talking with passengers, all contribute to accidents in a major way.
“You cannot multi-task and drive at the same time. It doesn't work," said Roxanne Dunham, owner and instructor at ABC Driving School in Austin.
In Minnesota, drivers may not use a cellphone in any capacity during their first year, and the state outright banned texting for all drivers as a way to increase driver safety.
State officials say their efforts have nearly cut traffic deaths in half over the last ten years, while still recognizing the fact that accidents continue to be a major issue.
Thankfully, experts said the most important step in avoiding accidents is also the simplest: education.
“I think the only thing we can do is continue to educate, get the message out there,” Dunham said. “Unfortunately some people need to learn by experience and that's very sad when something has to happen."
According to the Department of Public Safety, 108 Minnesota teens were killed on state roadways between 2009 and 2011. On average, more than 30 teens die each year.