Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teen Driver Deaths Rise: What Colorado can do

The Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) released a report last week that reveals an 11% increase in teen driver deaths.

This report comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just released a statistical projection suggesting that total motor vehicle deaths for the first 6 months of 2011 declined 0.9 percent. Read more in the February Traffic Safety Facts.

Although the decline in overall motor vehicle deaths is a positive trend, the increase in driving deaths within the teen population is an alarming trend that requires state action, right now.

The GHSA report was completed by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who formerly served as chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Dr. Williams attributes much of the increase in teen driver deaths to the fact that the benefit of state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws may be leveling off. Dr. Williams notes, 

“While it is not surprising that these numbers are stabilizing or slightly increasing, states should not accept these deaths as something that cannot be prevented. More work can and should be done to save teen lives.”
National organizations, including the CDC, GHSA, IIHS and NHTSA all have evidence-based research and collectively agree on the following policy recommendations to help combat this startling trend:
  • Strengthen graduated driver’s license laws;
  • Increase parental involvement; and
  • Implement legislation and enforcement of safety belts among all vehicle passengers (Primary seat belt law).
Colorado’s graduated driver’s law (GDL) has been in effect since 1996. Since the law was enacted, Colorado has experienced approximately a 60 percent reduction in fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes. However, Colorado has only a secondary seat belt law for driver’s over 18.  A secondary safety belt law permits law enforcement to ticket unbelted motorists only if they are stopped for other reasons, such as speeding. Even with a GDL law and a secondary seat belt law motor vehicle crashes continue to be a leading killer of Colorado teens.

For this reason, and because preventable motor vehicle crashes are a drain on the state’s budget, motor vehicle safety was selected as one of Colorado’s 10 Winnable Battles. Colorado's 10 Winnable Battles are public health and environmental priorities with large-scale impact on health and the environment, and with known, effective strategies to address them. The effective policy strategies recommended by leading national traffic safety organizations and adopted by the Colorado Winnable Battles would have a measurable impact on saving lives, reducing injury and public costs related to motor vehicle crashes.

Estimated $58.7 Minimum Savings to the Medicaid Budget in Colorado by Implementing a Primary Seat Belt Law
Additional studies have found that failure to implement a primary seat belt law creates a real cost to a State’s budget for Medicaid and other State medical expenditures. Specific to Colorado, NHTSA did a study that estimates the minimum dollars Colorado can expect to save on direct medical costs (primarily paid through Medicaid) by the implementation of a primary seat belt law. Click here to read the current study that analyzed Colorado’s 2005 Hospital Discharge Data, including only cases where the external cause of injury was a motor vehicle crash. The total estimated costs to Medicaid, including Traumatic Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury costs, from motor vehicle crashes for the first year the injury was incurred for Colorado is $58.7 million for the first year and $7.7 million for each year after.

Colorado clearly out performs the national trends. However, to ensure that Colorado trends continue in the right direction - to reduce death and public costs - it is recommended to strengthen the existing graduated driver’s license law and implement a primary seat belt law.

Proven, measurable evidence-based policy strategies coupled with community programs that encourage parent engagement and a comprehensive driving experience will keep Colorado's youth safe on the road, reduce death and public costs.

For more information about teen driving visit www.coteendriver.com.

For more information about Colorado’s Motor Vehicle Safety Winnable Battle contact Lindsey Myers at 303-692-2589 or

For more information about effective injury prevention policy strategies contact Natalie Gregory at 303-692-2477 or


  1. Is there a primary seat belt bill in the Colorado legislature this year? I searched on the General Assembly home page and didn't find anything.

  2. There is no legislation that includes a primary seat belt measure this session.

  3. How can the primary seatbelt law help the teen drive death statistics, if they already have to wear a seatbelt because they are under 18?

  4. Primary seat belt law will help teens and officers in the sense that it would make it a requirement that anyone caught driving without a seat belt be pulled over, which would decrease the current death statistics, as opposed to waiting for another traffic violation to be cited for lack of seat belt use.