We forgot about speed.
To make roadways safer for teens, the nation has focused much attention on such critical issues as distracted driving and driving under the influence.
But speeding - which is arguably even more critical - has largely escaped such notice. Meanwhile, speeding as a factor in fatal teen crashes is ticking up, from 30% in 2000 to 33% in 2011, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
In a study funded by insurer State Farm, GHSA found that from 2000-11, there were 19,447 speed-related crashes involving teen drivers.
If the USA is to continue making progress in teen driving safety, it must address speeding, says Susan Ferguson, an established highway safety consultant who authored the report.
"Speeding is something people aren't particularly concerned about," Ferguson says. "Speed limits have been going up across the country since they repealed the (national) 55 mph speed limit in 1995.
"This is the first time, really, that we've focused on this issue exclusively. We've known for a while that speeding is an issue for young drivers, especially for young males," she says.
Half of all fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers with three or more passengers are speeding-related, according to the report. "Unless speeding is recognized as a dangerous behavior, much the same as alcohol-impaired driving, it will continue to be difficult to address as a society," the report says. "More attention must be paid to this issue at the federal, state and local levels, and within the private sector. As well, parents should be taking the lead to do more to address speeding behavior among their teen drivers."
Says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, "A lot of the traffic safety community, some more than others, believes that the distracted driving debate has unnecessarily taken focus away from speeding and the contribution that speeding makes to the bigger picture."
Speeding is so deeply ingrained in American culture it will be difficult to address, Kissinger says. His group's Traffic Safety Culture Index, a survey of nearly 4,000 people of driving age, found that 63% considered speeding on residential streets "completely unacceptable" - but 47% had done it in the past month.
Among the most common speeding scenarios for teen drivers: young males driving at night with other teen passengers.
The report comes just as the deadliest season for young drivers gets underway: Eight of the 10 deadliest days of the year for teens on the roads occur during June, July and August, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The report offers recommendations for state and local governments and for parents.
-- State and local police should enforce speeding laws, use automated enforcement such as speed cameras, and tighten graduated driver licensing restrictions on nighttime driving and teen passengers.
-- Parents should not buy Junior a car right away. "When a teen first has a license, if they are the primary owner of a vehicle, they are more likely to speed" than in the family sedan, Ferguson says.
-- Also, parents should choose larger and newer cars and not high-performance vehicles.
-- Finally, teens who are monitored closely tend to speed less and drive more safely.