By Kim West
Alabama leads the country in BCS national championships with the University of Alabama and Auburn University claiming four football titles in the past four seasons.
But the state also ranks among the leaders in the country in a more chilling category — the number of teen drivers killed on Alabama roadways.
For every 100,000 teen drivers, Alabama had 31.2 fatalities, which tied for fourth with Arkansas and West Virginia. Wyoming led with 36.5 deaths, with Montana (34.1) second and Mississippi (32.3) third based on data collected from a five-year period in a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The District of Columbia had the lowest rate with 1.7 per 100,000 teen motorists, followed by New York (7.6), Rhode Island (8.5) and Massachusetts (8.8) based on the study’s data collected from 2006 to 2010.
Leading causes of teen motorist deaths include the use of alcohol, lack of seat belt usage and distracted driving, especially the use of electronic devices, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Based on ADPH figures, approximately 450,000 teens are injured in vehicle crashes, 27,000 are hospitalized and 5,500 die each year in the U.S.
Alabama’s graduated driver’s license law, which was passed in 2002, was amended in mid-2010 and limited drivers ages 16 and 17 to only one non-family passenger other than the parent, guardian or a supervising licensed driver at least 21 years old; enacted a restricted driving curfew between midnight and 6 a.m.; and banned the operation of any non-essential handheld communication device.
In the past two years Alabama has been able to decrease teen driver deaths from 96 in 2010, 54 in 2011 and less than 50 last year.
Based on preliminary figures, the Alabama Department of Public Safety listed 45 teen driver deaths for 2012, including one teen killed in each of the counties of Limestone, Madison and Morgan.
In 2011 the numbers were slightly higher, with three teen driver deaths apiece in Madison and Limestone, and two fatalities in Morgan County.