Fatality rate among young drivers falls

Number of deaths in Kansas, Missouri hits four-year low

? Kansas and Missouri last year saw the number of fatal traffic accidents involving young drivers drop to their lowest level in four years, which safety officials attributed to both states passing stricter licensing regulations.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said there were 216 fatal crashes last year in which at least one of the drivers involved was younger than 21. It was the fewest number of fatalities involving young drivers since 2001, when the state changed to a tiered system for issuing drivers permits and licenses.

In Kansas, young drivers were involved in 99 fatal crashes, also the lowest since 2001. State officials noted a 1999 law prohibited unrestricted driver’s licenses for 16- and 17-year-old drivers who hadn’t had adult-supervised driving experience.

For Missouri officials, the figures are a welcome sign after the National Safety Council recently named the state as having one of the highest rates for fatalities involving young drivers in the nation.

Kansas officials credited a 1999 law that required 16- and 17-year-olds to have 50 hours of supervised driving experience.

“Anytime a new driver is given supervised driving where you’re actually watching them drive and instructing them on safe-driving habits, that is certainly going to help,” said Lt. John Eichkorn of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

The decline comes as accidents across Kansas are decreasing, with officials reporting about 74,000 crashes in 2004, down from 78,000 the year before. Crashes involving young drivers dipped 1,000 between the two years.

Another factor is that the number of drivers in Kansas age 14 to 18 has declined about 4,000 over the last four years.