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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Conn. fatal crashes involving teens are rising

    A car accident that left two dead in October 2023. The number of fatal crashes involving teens in Connecticut began to increase with the onset of the pandemic with 18 deaths in 2020, 17 in 2021 and 27 in 2022. The numbers for 2023 and 2024 are incomplete since the repository relies on police fatal crash reports, which can take up to a year. Unofficial data indicates there were nine teen deaths in 2023 and five so far in 2024, which does not include Friday night's crash in Stamford. (AP Photo)

    Data shows there was a measurable decrease in the number of teens killed in car crashes when the Connecticut graduated driver's license restrictions were implemented in 2008.

    However, fatal crashes involving those between the ages of 16 to 18 are now rising again — and the state Child Fatality Review Panel wants to know why as officials urge parents to better educate themselves and their children.

    The latest teen fatality occurred Friday night in Stamford where a 17-year-old high school student was killed when his motorcycle collided with a car.

    "Since COVID, we've seen more fatalities," said Kirsten Bechtel, an emergency pediatrician with Yale New Haven Hospital and co-chairwoman of the panel that reviews all deaths for children under the age of 17. "COVID made a lot of things worse for everyone, including kids."

    Figures from the Connecticut Transportation Institute based on state Department of Transportation accident data seem to support Bechtel's observation, according to Executive Director Eric Jackson, who also oversees the Connecticut Crash Data Repository.

    "During COVID lockdown, traffic volumes were half of normal, but our fatalities did not slow down," Jackson said in an email. "The common theory and what we see in the behavior data is that speeds are up, aggressive driving is up, more people are impaired, and overall driver aggression and road rage is up."

    Jackson's data shows that more teens are telling police they were depressed, angry, disturbed or in some other emotional state when they were involved in a crash, with the peak occurring in 2022. The same holds true for teens driving while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or some type of medication, Jackson's data showed.

    Connecticut graduated driver's license laws for 16- and 17-year-olds went into effect in 2008 to try to reduce teen deaths after several crashes killed multiple youths in 2007, officials said.

    In the years following the new restrictions, the number of fatal crashes involving teens — whether they were a driver or a passenger — decreased from 27 in 2007 to a low of nine in 2014, the data showed. With the exception of 2014, the numbers hovered between 12 and 15 deaths per year from 2009 to 2018, the data shows. The nine deaths in 2014 were the lowest in the 18-year span from 2004 to 2022.

    The number of fatal crashes involving teens began to increase with the onset of the pandemic with 18 deaths in 2020, 17 in 2021 and 27 in 2022. The numbers for 2023 and 2024 are incomplete since the repository relies on police fatal crash reports, which can take up to a year, Jackson said. Unofficial data indicates there were nine teen deaths in 2023 and five so far in 2024, which does not include Friday night's crash in Stamford.

    State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Anthony Guerrera said one of the most perplexing sets of statistics is that there were 3,446 crashes with injuries involving teens in 2007 and 1,990 crashes with injuries involving teens in 2022, but both years had the same number of fatalities at 27.

    "I don't know what's driving those numbers," Guerrera said. "I don't have enough information, but I do know we have to be diligent as families and talk about distracted driving all of the time. Parents should be talking about it frequently, saying don't be on your phone. It's imperative that parents play a role in all of this."

    Parents are required to attend a two-hour class as part of 16- and 17-year-olds getting their driver's license under the state's GDL laws. But Guerrera said parents need to make sure the restrictions are enforced at home.

    "The more we talk about it, the more it's out there," the commissioner said. "They need to hear it from their parents on a regular basis."

    At the same time, state Assistant Child Advocate Brendan Burke pointed out that teens learning to drive in 2020 and 2021 did so with fewer vehicles on the road.

    "There was an increase in vehicles traveling at high speeds, an increase in deaths and an increase in driving while under the influence," Jackson said.

    The latest surge in teen driving deaths is a policy issue that should be addressed, said state Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, who chairs the Child Fatality Review Panel with Bechtel.

    "We have parents who aren't enforcing the graduated driver's license restrictions," Eagan said. "Maybe we need to do an education campaign for parents on why these laws are in place."

    Eagan also questioned whether youths were getting information on distracted and safe driving in health and wellness classes at school.

    "I'm wondering how much information kids are getting and how much information parents are getting," Eagan said.

    Another issue is that teens who delay getting their license until they are 18 do not fall under the GDL laws, so they are novices behind the wheel with no restrictions, Jackson said.

    Eagan wondered whether the GDL laws need to be extended to 18- and 19-year-olds.

    "The question is how many fatalities occur when teens are in violation of the GDL laws," Eagan said. "That would be important data to look at."

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