Minnesota bettered the national figure, but both were down precipitously. Experts credit awareness, tougher laws.
The number of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents fell more sharply in Minnesota than nationwide between 2004 and 2008, according to figures released Thursday by the federal government.
Fatal crashes among those ages 16 and 17 dropped 53 percent from 2004 to 2008 in Minnesota, while the national figure dropped 36 percent, the Centers for Disease Control said.
Despite the downward trend, teen death rates from vehicular accidents still remain much higher than for the population at large.
State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske credited changing social attitudes toward drunken driving and seat belt use for part of the reduction.
"It has become more socially unacceptable to young people to drink and drive," Roeske said. "They have it drummed into their heads from the time they are young that they are supposed to wear seat belts. Any time you see major changes, it's when dangerous behaviors decrease."
At the same time, too many kids still drink and drive, and too many don't buckle up, he said. A recent State Patrol survey of Minnesota teens who died in vehicular accidents found that only 42 percent of the drivers and just 34 percent of the passengers were wearing seat belts. Education and enforcement efforts must continue, Roeske said.
Like national experts, Roeske said recently implemented restrictions on young drivers are helping to keep them out of risky situations young drivers used to encounter.
"They have restrictions on the number of passengers they can have in the car," Roeske said. "They're not supposed to talk on cell phones. They're not supposed to drive from midnight to 5 a.m."
The cumulative effect of these rules, plus better education and enforcement efforts regarding seat belt use and drunken driving, helped drive down fatalities from accidents involving teen drivers in Minnesota from 47 in 2004 to 22 in 2008, the period of the CDC study.
Nationwide, the number of deaths tied to these accidents fell from about 2,200 in 2004 to 1,400 in 2008, the CDC said.
The CDC looked at fatal accidents with drivers who were 16 or 17. There were more than 9,600 such incidents during the five years; more than 11,000 people died in the crashes.
The rate of these fatal crashes has been declining since 1996. CDC officials credit a range of factors, including highway improvements and safer cars with air bags.
But experts say a chief reason is that most states have been getting tougher, curbing when teens can drive and when they can carry passengers.
"It's not that teens are becoming safer," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based research group funded by auto insurance companies. "It's that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations," such as driving at night or with other teens in the car.
Graduated driver's licensing programs began appearing in 1996 and now 49 states have them. Some are more restrictive than others, which may be one reason why death rates vary by state, Rader said.
The CDC found that Wyoming had the highest death rate, with about 60 traffic fatalities involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers per 100,000 people that age. New York and New Jersey had the lowest rates, at about 10 per 100,000. Minnesota's rate was roughly 24 per 100,000.
New Jersey and New York have the most restrictive licensing programs -- New Jersey essentially bans kids from driving until they are 17, and New York City prohibits teen driving until 18.
Wyoming has a graduated driver's licensing program, but it's somewhat lax. For example, younger teens are allowed to drive until 11 p.m., while other states force them off the roads starting at 9 p.m., Rader noted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Poll: Who should be the next Twins starting pitcher to lose his job?