Bad driving habits and trends are diminishing among teens, according to a new report on teen driver safety released by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm.

From 2008 to 2011, the following risky behaviors, common among teens (ages 15 to 19 years), declined: the number of teen passengers killed in crashes not wearing seat belts decreased 23 percent; the number of teen passengers driven by a peer who had been drinking declined 14 percent; and 30 percent fewer teen passengers were killed in crashes involving a teen driver.

Overall, the report measured a 47-percent decline in teen driver-related fatalities over the past six years. Still, crashes remain the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.

“When most people think about those affected by teen driver crashes, they think of teens behind the wheel. This report includes encouraging news about teen passengers, who are often left out of the teen driver safety picture,” says Dennis Durbin, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, and author of the report. “When you see the needle move, as we have in this report, it’s time to apply the gas on programs that encourage safe teen passenger behaviors, as well as those that address what causes teens to crash.”

Based on recent research which identified specific behaviors or factors associated with teen driver crashes, Durbin offers key areas he thinks have the greatest potential to further drive down the teen crash rate: Reduce distraction from passengers and technology, increase skills in scanning, hazard detection, and speed management, and increase seat belt use to improve a teen’s chance of survival in a crash.

Although the report indicates progress, risky behaviors—such as texting or emailing while driving, driving after drinking and low seat belt use—remain serious problems. According to the report, a third of teens still say they have recently texted or emailed while. Also, speeding remained a factor in more than half of fatal teen driver crashes.

The report, third in an annual series, provides evidence to support stronger Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs, according to the authors, which allow teens to gain experience under lower-risk conditions. A comprehensive GDL program includes at least 50 hours of adult-supervised practice under varied conditions, limits teen passengers for the first year of independent driving, restricts unsupervised nighttime driving, requires seat belt use for the driver and all passengers, and prohibits cell phone use while driving.

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