(UNDATED) - Blame it on texting, eating, drinking, changing the radio station. Or simple inexperience at the wheel.
The Leader Democrat reports that all are believed to be the reasons behind a new and disturbing statistic: Traffic deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers increased more sharply in Indiana than in any other state during the first half of 2012, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report.
Both Indiana and Tennessee recorded 16 deaths among that population from January to June in 2012, the report states - part of an overall increase nationwide. Louisiana followed with 15 deaths, and Texas had 14. Alabama and Kentucky had 12 each.
Indiana showed the greatest jump in deaths - from three to 16 - when researchers compared the 2012 span to the same period in 2011.
Distracted driving - often as a result of texting - is a likely cause for the increase, though not the only one.
"Car full of kids, stereo cranked up - all of these are distractions, and we're a society of multitasking," said Dan Towery, who is helping form the nonprofit Drive Sober, Inc., in Tippecanoe County. He stressed that, while the spike was concerning, more a half-year of data is needed to draw significant conclusions.
Still, he added, "sometimes a few seconds you're looking away from the road, and that's all it takes."
The need to eliminate texting and driving is a legitimate focus, said Capt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police. But he agreed that many factors contribute to teen driving deaths.
"We have inexperience in driving," he said, referring to teen drivers.
"And anything that divides attention plays a role - anything from a person talking to driver in the car to a person talking on the phone or operating an MP3 or iPod - or texting while they're driving."
Alcohol and drug use can, inevitably, also play a role.
In May, for example, police said alcohol and marijuana use was suspected in a crash that killed one teenager and injured four others, all between the ages of 16 and 18. Nathan Gentry, 18, suffered massive head injuries and died after the car struck a tree northwest of Brownsburg.
Like many states, Indiana has "graduated driver licensing' - in effect, restrictions for 16-and-17-year-olds.
Drivers below the age of 18, for example, receive "probationary" licenses. That means, for 180 days after receiving the license, they can't drive with passengers unless a parent or adult is in the front passenger seat, and they can't drive between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. They also can't use a cell phone while driving unless they're calling 911.
Despite the restrictions, authorities say, young people sometimes fail to comprehend risks because they're still new to driving.
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