By DENISE BUFFA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
8:40 PM EDT, July 20, 2013
This summer has been a particularly deadly one for teens on Connecticut roads, with three dying in car crashes.
Brothers Robert Swain, 18, of East Hartford, and La'Andrew Evans-Swain, 16, of Manchester died after a BMW driven by another teen crashed around 4:15 a.m. on July 15 in East Hartford. Another passenger, 20, was seriously injured. The driver, an 18-year-old, was not hurt, according to police.
A little more than an hour later, at 5:30 a.m., 17-year-old Jane Modlesky died when the SUV she was driving hit several trees along Woodhaven Road in Glastonbury. The medical examiner has ruled the death an accident.
The tragedies mirror the conclusions of a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that lists July and August among the three deadliest months for teen drivers nationwide.
In 2011, July, August and October had the highest number of teenage crash deaths nationally: 273, 312 and 317, respectively, according to the institute. Each of those three months had about 10 percent of the total crash deaths involving teens that year: 3,023.
The lowest number of deaths in 2011 occurred in January: 185.
"It is safe to say the summertime is more deadly to teens. More teens are driving, therefore, there's more exposure to risk," said Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The GHSA reports that the number of deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers increased from 202 in the first six months of 2011 to 240 in the first six months of 2012, up 19 percent nationwide, including the District of Columbia, based on preliminary data.
Motor vehicles crashes are the leading cause of deaths among 15- to 20-year-olds in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 5,000 people aged 16 to 20 die in passenger vehicle crashes annually, according to the NHTSA.
In the past five years, the number of teen driver deaths in Connecticut has been on a downward trend because of more stringent 2008 legislation imposing restrictions on teen drivers, including the hours they may drive and the passengers they may carry, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
In 2007, seven teen drivers aged 16 and 17 were killed in crashes; in 2012, two died, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Tim Hollister, a Hartford lawyer whose 17-year-old son, Reid, died in a one-car accident on I-84 in Plainville in December 2006, has become an advocate for safe teen driving.
"The fact has been, year over year, two thirds of the fatalities occur between May and August," he said.
Hollister was a member of the statewide task force that recommended changes in the state's teen driving laws.
"Connecticut is among the highest reductions in the country. I think that's a testament to the strict overhaul that we did," he said.
State statistics show that among 16- and 17-year-old drivers, one died in 2011 crash and two in 2012.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles said there were 18 fatalities involving all teen drivers in 2011, the most recent year such data is available. In that year, there were 9,520 accidents involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. Besides the 18 fatalities, more than 3,000 people were injured in those accidents, according to state officials.
As the economy improves, more teens are driving, and the more miles they drive, the more fatalities are likely, according to Hollister. He said there is more joy riding, when teens are just riding around for fun with passengers, without a specific destination.
"It's the joy rides where we're seeing the riskier driving — the risk-taking and the peer pressure," Hollister said.
DMV spokesman Bill Seymour insists that death has no season when it comes to young inexperienced drivers who have difficulty assessing risk on the road.
"When you combine inexperience with a biological underdevelopment, it's a combination that can produce crashes and injuries — sometimes fatalities," he said, "So these kinds of dangers lurk all year long for teen drivers."
Still, the most recent numbers are a far cry from a decade ago, when state statistics show that 11 16- to 17-year-olds died on Connecticut's roads.
That trend holds true nationwide, according to the GHSA.
"We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier," Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who completed the GHSA report, said in a press release. "However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year."
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