Kentucky leads in teen driver deaths for second straight year

Published 11:14 am Friday, June 16, 2023

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The Center Square

A recent report shows Kentucky has the most teen driver deaths in the country for the second consecutive year.

Zutobi, an online driver’s education resource site, reviewed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Based on that information, it determined there were 72.4 deaths for every 100,000 teen drivers.

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While the report noted some common factors nationally for those fatalities – such as speeding, distracted driving and drinking – Kentucky also had some unique factors contributing to the high mortality rate.

Lucas Waldenbäck, Zutobi’s co-founder, told The Center Square that rural communities often lack public transportation options. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, nearly 5% of all U.S. workers age 16 and older rely on public transportation to get to their job. In Kentucky, it’s only 1%.

“These factors play a significant role in ensuring driving safety,” Waldenbäck said. “By enhancing the visibility of road signs, improving road maintenance practices, and addressing design flaws that contribute to accidents, we can create a safer environment for all drivers, particularly our teenagers.”

Kentucky uses a graduated licensing program for drivers under 18. That program was established in the 1990s to reduce teen fatalities and accidents.

A teenager can take their permit test when they turn 16, and after six months, they’re eligible to take a driver’s test for their license.

However, if they pass, they are not granted full driving privileges immediately. For the first six months, they cannot drive between midnight and 6 a.m., with some exceptions. They also cannot have more than one person under 20 in the car who is not a family member.

Any moving violation means the 180-day intermediate license period resets.

Waldenbäck suggested state officials review the program and include “gamified education” options for younger drivers.

“By making the learning process engaging and enjoyable, we empower young drivers to make informed decisions and reduce the rates of accidents,” Waldenback said.

Kentucky’s 72.43 fatality rate was up from its 71.45 in last year’s study. Montana was second at 58.47, with Mississippi the third-worst at 57.45.

Alaska has the fewest fatalities, according to the study, at just 5.05 deaths per 100,000 teen drivers. Minnesota is the second safest at 9.59, and New Hampshire is next at 10.73.