By: Georgia Lobb

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The year 2011 marks an increase in what was previously a steadily declining rate of teen driver deaths, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report earlier this month.

The GHSA reports that driving related deaths of 16 and 17 year old drivers have risen a staggering 19 percent in the first half of 2012.

The report documents only 1 death of a 16-year old driver in Connecticut in 2011 (and none in 2010), which was that of Ridgefield native Jacqueline Brice. 

A problem that seems to be plaguing the younger generation of drivers, and which is perhaps the reason for the recent spike in teen driving deaths, is distracted driving.

Distracted driving can be anything from eating and drinking behind the wheel, to fiddling with the radio, to grooming. But the most dangerous distraction currently is texting while driving. cites that 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 3,267 in 2010. 11% of drivers under 20 years of age that were involved in fatal traffic accidents were “distracted” at the time of the crash.

“Distracted driving is a particular problem for teenagers given their high use of electronic equipment and frequent travel with peer passengers, which escalate crash risk,” reads the GHSA release.

And although laws that prohibit use of handheld devices such as cell phones have been implemented, GHSA reports that a study showed that these laws did not result in a change in phone use.

In Connecticut, one approach to help decrease teen driving deaths has been reaching out to parents. “A relatively new development is the introduction of orientation programs for parents, informing them about the rules and their rationale and the parental role in the licensing process,” explains GHSA.

While most states offer these programs for voluntary use, Connecticut (along with Massachusetts and Virginia), have mandated them as mandatory for licensure. Studies indicate that these programs are being received well by parents state-wide.

Legislators and citizens alike are debating about steps that need to be taken in order to decrease distracted driving disparities in Connecticut.

In an effort to increase penalties for distracted drivers, a bill was proposed that would, if passed, raise fines for these types of drivers on the roadway. The bill would ensure that drivers who are caught on a mobile device or operating other types of electronics while driving are subject to a fine of $150.00, a second offense fee of $300.00, and if caught a third time could be fined up to $500.00.

In a Public Testimony, Ron McLellan of the Connecticut Employees Union gave a genuine plea to pass the bill. “The injuries and deaths that result from distracted and/or aggressive driving have real impact on families,” he said. “The loss of a loved one or serious injury that causes lifelong pain and restriction are scars that never heal and can’t be fully compensated.”

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