THURSDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- The number of teen driver-related fatalities has dropped by almost half in the last six years, and the number of teen passengers killed in crashes involving teen drivers fell 30 percent in the United States from 2008 to 2011, a new national safety study reported Thursday.
On the other hand, the report on teen drivers found that texting, email, speeding and drinking remain deadly distractions.
The findings, from a joint report by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm Insurance, showed positive news in that 54 percent of teen passengers reported that they always used seat belts.
And there were other encouraging trends among teen passengers from 2008 to 2011: There was a decline in the risky behaviors of teen passengers, ages 15 to 19.The number of teen passengers who were killed in crashes and not wearing seat belts fell 23 percent.The number of teen passengers killed in crashes in which a teen driver had been drinking decreased 14 percent.
"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," study lead author Dr. Dennis Durbin, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, said in a hospital news release.
"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," he added.
Despite the progress outlined in the study, a number of risky behaviors remain serious problems. These include texting or emailing while driving, drinking and driving, and low levels of seat belt use.
The study found that one-third of teens say they have recently texted or emailed while driving. Speeding was a factor in more than half of fatal crashes involving teen drivers in 2011, similar to 2008. And the percentage of teens who died in crashes and had a blood alcohol level higher than 0.01 rose from 38 percent in 2008 to 41 percent in 2011.
Durbin said there are a number of key areas that have the greatest potential to further reduce teen traffic crashes and deaths. These include: reducing distractions from passengers and technology; improving skills in scanning, hazard detection and speed management; and increasing seat belt use.
"Texting or emailing while driving is especially dangerous for teen drivers. We are encouraged that abstaining from cellphone use while driving is currently the norm for teens -- most are not doing this dangerous behavior," Durbin said.
"To reach the teens that still do text or email while driving, messages should focus on teens' positive safety beliefs about refraining from cellphone use while driving, rather than turning to scare tactics that always emphasize the negative consequences," he added.
The study, called "Miles to go: Focusing on Risks for Teen Driver Crashes," is the third in an annual series.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says parents are the key to safe teen drivers.