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Montana teenage car crash death rate among nation's highest

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released some statistics on teenage car accident deaths, and the news for Montana is discouraging. The IIHS ranked all 50 states in terms of teenage deaths in car accidents, and Montana is unfortunately in the top six for teenage death rates, a distinction the state shares with Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wyoming. The five safest states for teenage drivers were the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

Car accidents claimed the lives of almost 18,000 teenagers in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010. The death rate for teenage drivers is close to three times the death rate for drivers age 20 and over.

There are a number of reasons for the high death rate for teens, but two stand out: inexperience and distraction. Driving is a complex task that takes some practice, and teenagers simply haven't been driving all that long. Distractions from electronic devices and from other teenagers in the car compound the problem. Texting and driving has emerged as a major risk factor in auto accidents.

To some extent the higher death rates in Montana are probably a matter of geography: Montana teens probably drive more, and for greater distances, than teenagers in other states. It is interesting to note that the states with the lowest teen death rates are more densely populated eastern states, where more people use public transportation and drive for shorter distances, and there are more police officers per square mile.

Other factors are also involved. Teenage boys are risk-takers, and sometimes the thrill of racing or other reckless behavior is hard to resist. And of course all other risk factors are multiplied when underage drinking is involved.

Teenagers who cause an accident through their negligence get no breaks from the civil law. They are held to the same standard of care as older and more experienced drivers. A teenager can be held responsible for an injury or death to the same extent as any other negligent driver. The victims - whether they are in another vehicle or riding with the teenage driver - have the right to bring a lawsuit to receive monetary compensation for their injuries.

Source: Claims Journal, "Study: Teen Car Crash Deaths Vary by State," Oct. 1, 2012

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