A study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that the number of teen driver fatalities increased in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period last year.

The study looked at preliminary fatality data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and honed in on the number of deaths for 16- and 17-year-old drivers. The study found that deaths for 17-year-old drivers increased 7 percent compared with 2010, from 110 to 118. The number of deaths for 16-year-old drivers increased 11 percent compared with one year ago, from 190 to 211.

Since 1995, there has been a significant drop in the number of teen driver deaths. “The historical decrease in driver deaths among this age group has been pronounced,” says The New York Times. “In 1995, there were 1,015 recorded deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers, whereas in 2010, there were 408 deaths.”

The number of teen driver deaths for the second half of 2011 will be released later this year, and if the second half of 2011 also experiences an increase in teen driver deaths, the 2011 total will be the first increase in years. “Deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in 2011 are still relatively low, and it is not a surprise that the numbers may be stabilizing or increasing slightly,” says the GHSA. The GHSA credits part of the increase to graduated driver licensing laws “that went into effect between 1996 and 2010” but are now “leveling off.” 

The GHSA also speculates that the economy, which is slowly improving, has also played a role in the slight increase in teen driver deaths. “The improving economy means more teens on the roads,” says USA Today. “The recession probably helped reduced travel among teen drivers in 2008 and 2009; those drivers are returning to the highways.” 

The increase in teen driver deaths serves as a reminder of the importance of safety for young drivers. Parents, in particular, play an important role in shaping their teen’s driving behavior. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety stresses that parents shouldn’t assume that driver education is the only tool their teens need to stay safe, and must actively monitor their teen’s driving habits. The IIHS suggests parents limit the number of passengers in the teen’s car and limit late-night driving, which is when fatal crashes are more likely to happen, among other tips. 

Choosing the right car for your teen, even though it may not be the sportiest or coolest model, can help protect teens and their passengers if there is a crash. The best car for any teen driver receives high safety scores from the IIHS and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The IIHS also recommends bigger vehicles for teen drivers, as they are more likely to protect occupants in a crash than a small car. 

There are also many safety features that are unique to different car brands. Ford and Lincoln, for example, offer a MyKey system that allows parents to limit the car’s speed and stereo volume. Some Volvos have standard City Safety, which will activate the brakes to slow down a car in low-speed situations if it senses that the Volvo will crash into the vehicle in front of it. 

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