Fatal car crashes involving teen drivers drop

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ATLANTA — Fatal car crashes involving teen drivers fell by about a third over five years, according to a new federal report that partly credits the drop to tougher state limits on younger drivers.

The number of teen deaths fell dramatically from about 2,200 in 2004 to 1,400 in 2008, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The CDC looked at fatal accidents with drivers who were 16 or 17. There were more than 9,600 such incidents during the five-year span and more than 11,000 people died in the crashes.

The rate of these fatal crashes has been declining since 1996. Experts say a chief reason is that since then, most states began getting tougher, curbing when teens can drive and when they can carry passengers.

"It's not that teens are becoming safer," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based research group funded by auto insurance companies.

"It's that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations," such as driving at night or with other teens in the car, he said.

The CDC found that Wyoming had the highest death rate, with about 60 traffic fatalities involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers per 100,000 people that age. New York and New Jersey, which have rigorous driving restrictions on teens, had the lowest rates, at about 10 per 100,000.

The report is being published this week in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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