"With the improved economy, teens have more discretional spending, they're more likely to get out and drive," Hasha said.
new study conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) shows that teen deaths behind the wheel are on the rise.
According to the GHSA, deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds in auto accidents rose 19 percent during the first six months of 2012, from 202 to 240, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
Researchers aren't sure what the factors are behind the data, but they have a few theories.
"With the improved economy, teens have more discretional spending, they're more likely to get out and drive," Barbara Hasha, the GSHA's executive director, said. Hasha also pointed to what she called diminishing returns from graduated licensing laws that were put into effect in most states over the last few years. Graduated licensing laws are laws that restrict teen drivers before gradually allowing them the same behind the wheel privileges that older drivers have. Hasha's point is that now that these laws have been around for a while, they may be losing effectiveness.
"The benefits from graduated licensing laws are leveling off," Hasha said.
Hasha reminded us that the GSHA's theories are just that. Hasha said that when it comes to distracted driving, there simply isn't enough data out there to measure how distracted driving might be affecting the death rate of teens.
Another factor that could have caused the rate to spike, according to Hasha, is last year's mild winter. While milder weather may be less difficult to drive in, it's possible that teens who might've otherwise stayed home chose to get behind the wheel.
Hasha notes that despite the recent spike, the numbers are still better than they were five years ago.
"We’ve definitely made improvements," Hasha said.
Hasha said that there's still more that lawmakers can do to cut teen deaths, especially with graduated licensing laws.
"They need to continue to make improvements in those laws," Hasha said. She recommends laws that restrict teen drivers to one or zero non-family passengers.