SIKESTON -- Local officials report there haven't been many teen-related accidents this year, but according to the 2003 Kids Count Organization survey released earlier this month, the Missouri teen death rate is among the highest nationwide.
"Mostly kids are just racing up and down the roads or we find out someone's having a keg party," said Capt. Brenda Schiwitz of the Scott County Sheriff's Department. "To be honest, accidents here (Scott County) haven't been that serious."
In 2000, nearly 74 Missouri teens per every 100,000 died due to accident, homicide or suicide, according to Kids Count. This is a slight improvement from 1990, when the state saw 81 deaths per 10,000 teens. Still, Missouri ranks 46th for the teen death rate. Massachusetts has the lowest nationwide rate of 25 teens per every 100,000 and Alaska has the highest rate of 128 teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide.
"It really seems like there's been a decline of teen accidents and suicides in our county this year," noted Ralph Barnwell, coordinator of the New Madrid County Ambulance District and 9-1-1. "Everything is so far so good this year."
Not having as many teen accidents is somewhat exceptional, Barnwell admitted, adding that he doesn't want to jinx the good luck the county's been having.
Cande Iveson, senior policy analyst for Citizens for Missouri's Children, said violent teen deaths are very troubling for the organization which works collaboratively with the Children's Trust Fund and over 30 other organizations on the Kids Count in Missouri (KCM) project.
KCM's mission is to improve the well-being of Missouri's children by heightening awareness of children's issues within local communities and by promoting more effective responses to children's needs throughout the state.
"In 2001, there were 365 teen violent deaths in Missouri. That's one kid a day," Iveson said in disbelief.
Of the 365 teens, approximately 56 percent were motor vehicle crash victims, 22 percent were homicide victims and 14 percent were suicides the survey said.
In 2001, a total of 259 young drivers under 21 died in car crashes and 20,108 young drivers were injured, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Of all 2001 younger driver crashes, about 65 percent occurred in an urban area and nearly 36 percent occurred in a rural area of the state. Approximately 69 percent of the fatalities were males, according to the Patrol.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the most significant risk factors among teenage drivers are inexperience, low rates of seatbelt use and alcohol.
One preventative method taken to decrease teen deaths among motor vehicle crashes is the Missouri Graduated License Program, Iveson said.
"Basically, the graduated license makes the age at which kids drive 15 instead of 15-1/2. This way teens have a whole year of supervised driving. The other thing with the program is that kids aren't allowed to drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.," Iveson explained.
If the teen has no alcohol-related enforcement contacts and no traffic convictions for which points are assessed, they may apply for a full driver's license at the age of 18, Iveson said.
While adults may like the idea behind the graduated license, teens may not be as convinced.
"They hate it," noted Schiwitz about teens' views of the graduated license program. "They hate that they have to be home at a certain time and they don't like the restrictions."
One deterrent that seems to work for teen drivers is sitting in on traffic court, Schiwitz said. About 30-40 Sikeston Public Schools students visited Scott County's traffic court Tuesday, and Schiwitz said she thought it was an eye-opening experience for the teens.
"Judge (David) Mann does a good job of getting into teens' heads when they get a speeding ticket," Schiwitz said about the associate circuit court judge. "Rather than just give them their sentence, he takes a little time to talk to them and asks them questions like why were they speeding or why were they in such a hurry."
For violent deaths of teens ages 15-19, Scott County ranked No. 5 in the state with No. 1 being the best and 115 being the worst; Stoddard County ranked No. 56; Mississippi County ranked 68; and New Madrid County ranked 88 for violent teen deaths, according to Missouri Kids Count.
Mississippi and Scott counties each had five violent teen deaths from 1997-2001, while New Madrid and Stoddard counties had 10 violent teen deaths during the five-year period, according to Kids Count. Counties' statistics are based on five-year averages.