WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deaths of 16- and 17-year-old U.S. drivers rose in the first half of 2011, threatening to reverse an 8-year downturn, the Governors Highway Safety Association said in a report.
An improving U.S. economy could be behind the increase as more teenagers get behind the wheel, the study released on Thursday said.
Based on preliminary data, 211 16- and 17-year-old passenger vehicle drivers were killed in the first half of 2011, up 11 percent from the same period in 2010.
"If this trend continued in the second half of 2011, it will mark a reversal of longstanding yearly declines in teen driver deaths," the non-profit association said in a statement.
The number of traffic deaths for 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen every year since 2002. Deaths hit a record low of 408 in 2010, down from 1,015 in 1995, around the start of phased-in licensing, when young drivers were required to earn their licenses in gradual steps.
Twenty-three states had increases in the first half of last year and 19 had decreases, the study said. Texas had by far the largest number of fatalities at 48.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Wednesday overall traffic deaths were estimated to be down 1.6 percent in the first nine months of 2011 from the same period the year before.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Trotta)