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Bay area leads U.S. in teen traffic deaths during holidays

TAMPA — Debbie Carter wasn't shocked when she heard that the Tampa Bay metro area ranked No. 1 for holiday traffic accident deaths involving teen drivers.

Carter, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, said she doesn't know why the area has so many fatalities.

"We do mock DUI crashes, seat belt exercises, and our school resource officers talk to students," she said. "We are constantly trying to inform and enlighten kids to combat the problem."

But according to a review of federal statistics by Allstate Insurance, the Tampa metro area is the most dangerous place in the country for teen drivers between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Fifty-nine fatal crashes involving teen drivers happened during the holidays from 2000 through 2007 in the Tampa metro area, according to Bert Sperling, president of the Portland, Ore., research firm Best Places, which conducted the review released Wednesday.

Sperling said the statistics came from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The top 50 were determined by finding out which places had the highest number of crashes per 100,000 teens living in the area, Sperling said.

The Tampa metro area included only Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. A teen driver was defined as one 15 to 19 years of age. It was not known whether the teen drivers were at fault.

Each metro area also was given a score using Allstate claims data as well as the federal statistics, but the methodology used to achieve those scores was unclear.

Jacksonville and Orlando-Kissimmee were listed as having the second- and third-worst fatality rates.

The three safest cities, according to the review, were Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Cleveland.

Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, said 418 teen drivers were involved in fatal accidents in the state in 2007, up one from 2006.

He said lack of experience driving and a host of distractions get teens into trouble on the roads.

Pinellas County officials say they use school resource officers, jails and Students Against Drunk Driving chapters to reach out to young drivers about the dangers.

"We just take our approach as very comprehensive and serious and very direct in our message: Develop good driving habits now," said Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

So far in 2008, 15 teenagers have died as a result of motor vehicle accidents in Hillsborough County, although not all of them were driving.

Nine weren't wearing seat belts, said Susan C. Joel, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Community Traffic Safety Team that hosts Battle of the Belts, a program to get teens to buckle up.

Teen members conducted a survey of their classmates to find out how many of them used seat belts before and after an informational campaign. The number of students using safety belts actually decreased during the campaign.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at rmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Fast facts

The Top 10

1. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater

2. Jacksonville

3. Orlando-Kissimmee

4. Kansas City

5. Birmingham-Hoover

6. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale

7. Las Vegas-Paradise

8. Oklahoma City

9. Louisville

10. Richmond

Source: Allstate

Past crashes

Pasco

Nov. 27, 2007: Two Land O'Lakes teens, Rebecca McCann, 16, and David O'Steen, 18, died after David tried to pass a vehicle on Handcart Road, south of San Antonio, Fla. His tire blew out before he could get back into his lane. His Honda Accord spun and collided with an oncoming Kia Sedona.

Pinellas

Jan. 8, 2007: Three Palm Bay teens died in a motorcycle wreck when Shane Alvarez, 19, was driving a Suzuki sport bike with passenger Kassadi Pullins, 16, and rear-ended Ryan Popovich, 19, who was driving a Honda Enduro dirt bike.

Hillsborough

Dec. 27, 2005: Plant City teen Kyla Gamble overcorrected her 1997 pickup truck and flipped the vehicle. She was ejected and died at the scene.

Source: Times archives

Bay area leads U.S. in teen traffic deaths during holidays 12/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:20am]
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