OGDEN -- Driving kills more teens than any other cause, and the next few months are the most deadly on Utah roads.
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, and preliminary indications are that, after declining in 2011, such fatalities increased in the first half of 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deaths of teen drivers nationwide increased from 2011 by 19 percent in the first six months of last year, shows a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which receives information that states send to a federal database.
And federal data shows that the average number of teenagers who die in accidents doubles during the three months that begin when school lets out for the summer.
A study done by AAA shows that seven of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers are clustered in those months, and some of the dates from 2011 (the most recent year for which complete data is available) are likely party weekends: the last Saturday in June, two days of the July 4 weekend and a Sunday late in August just before universities launch their fall terms.
"Life feels more carefree when school's out, and teens have more opportunities to drive or ride in cars late at night with other teens," said Kathleen Marvaso, AAA vice president of public affairs. "That can be a deadly mix."
Surprisingly, a study released Tuesday by Ford showed that two-thirds of teen drivers and 58 percent of their parents believe that winter is the most dangerous season for teenagers on the road.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 23 teens lost their lives on Utah roads in 2011.
Utah teens were three times as likely to have irresponsible personal behavior, such as speeding or driving distracted, contribute to their fatal crash.
Of the 23 teen deaths in 2011, 75 percent were the result of improper use of a seat belt.
Stacy Johnson, who works with Utah's "Zero Fatalities" program, said parents should set rules and benchmarks for their teen drivers and allow driving freedoms to come as a result of following the rules and reaching the benchmarks.
"Parents shouldn't just give their kids the keys to the car and let them have free rein," she said. "Freedom should be given out a little bit at a time, after the kids have proved they can be responsible."
Johnson said Utah law prohibits teens from driving with friends for six months after they get their license. Some teens may need even more than that, she said.
"Every kid is different, but we can all remember how easily distracted we were as teens. When you have friends in the car, you're just adding more distractions."
Summer months are typically the most dangerous for all drivers, whether they are teens or adults, said Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety.
Most fatal accidents in Utah occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with an average of 96 fatalities occurring each year between those two holidays, he said.
"Fatalities traditionally increase by at least 35 percent during the days between Memorial and Labor days. As we go into the deadliest time of year on Utah's roadways, it's critical that motorists follow traffic laws, always wear their seat belts and don't drive drowsy, distracted, aggressively or impaired."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.