Recently we shared a post about predictors of when teens could be involved in car crashes. Now a new study is suggesting that teen traffic deaths actually increased in the U.S. in the first half of 2011. If the numbers stayed that way in the second half of the year, it would be the first such yearly increase in several years.

Safety advocates are concerned with the numbers, and for good reason. There were 211 fatal car accidents involving teenager drivers in the first half of 2011. According to a New York Times article, fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds increased from 80 to 93 when compared with the year before. There were 118 deadly accidents involving 17-year-old drivers, up from 110 compared to the first half of 2010.

So, why is this happening after so many years of decline? One possible explanation is the improving economy. While the tough economy may have prevented some teens from paying to get their license or from purchasing gas, the gradual turnaround could mean that more teens are driving regularly for the first time.

A chief scientist with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also believes the effects of graduated licensing laws, which are designed to protect teens, may be wearing off. He views the new data as a “wake-up call” to the states that saw an increase in teen traffic deaths. Overall, 23 states reported increases, while 19 saw decreases and eight reported no change.

More could be done, the scientist says, noting that every state could institute improvements that would help protect teen drivers.

Source: New York Times, “Fatalities among teenage drivers rose in first half of 2011, study finds,” Tanya Mohn, Feb. 16, 2012