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Texas No. 1 in cutting teen traffic deaths

Texas leads the nation in the decline in fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Fatalities involving 16 to 19-year-old drivers fell 33 percent from 2002 to 2007, more than double the national rate of decline,
according to a study released Monday.

Driving experts attribute the decrease to the rigorous multistep program Texas teens must endure to get a driver’s license, along with a push for peer-to-peer education programs high schools, according to the study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

Officials said driving-related deaths m 2007 were the No. 1 killer of Texas teens.

More than 300 Texas high schools have peer-to-peer education programs, which help teens talk to one another about the dangers of unsafe driving behaviors such as texting while driving, speeding and not wearing seat belts.

Nationwide, more than 5,000 16- to 19-year-olds die in car crashes each year. In 2007, the most recent year for which statewide data were available, 419 teens died in crashes.

The transportation institute study, funded by the Texas Department of Transportation and State Farm Insurance, compared teen fatality rates in Texas with other states that kept at least five years of graduated driver’s license data. Graduated driver’s license laws restrict new drivers but offer more freedom as they grow older and typically include a permit stage followed by a provisional license. In Texas, the graduated driver’s license law, passed in 2001, limits the time of day young drivers can be on the road. It also bans them from using cell phones while driving.

Texas is among 33 states to earn a rating of good, the highest offered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for graduated license programs. Ten states were rated fair, seven marginal and none poor, the-lowest.

In 1995 Texas dropped the road test as a requirement for getting a license; studies show teen auto fatalities increased soon afterward. But fatalities started to fall in 2002 once Texas brought peer-to-peer Safe driving programs into highschools. More than 250,000 Texas students participated in the Teens in the Driver Seat program in the 2008-09 school year.

The program receives about $900,000 from the state and $100,000 from State Farm. Officials say they would need several times that amount to reach their goal of expanding the program to all Texas high schools.

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