Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming have the highest teen fatal accident rates in the nation, according to a report released this week.

But teens everywhere should be cautious behind the wheel: The fatal accident rate for teens is almost three times the rate for drivers 20 and older, according to the report.

Almost 18,000 teens age 16 to 19 died in car crashes nationwide from 2006 to 2010, according to the Erie Insurance study -- based on the most recent statistics analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Here are the worst states for 16- to 19-year-olds for the four years from 2006 to 2010:
  1. Wyoming -- 35.6 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists. That's 216 percent higher than the national rate for drivers 20 and older.
  2. Montana -- 34.1 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists; 202 percent higher than the national rate for drivers over age 20.
  3. Mississippi -- 32.3 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists and 186 percent higher than the national rate for drivers 20 and older.
  4. A tie between West Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama -- each with 31.2 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists, 177 percent higher than the national rate for drivers 20 and older.

In some cases, the states with high teen fatal crash rates overlap with the states where people drive more miles. For instance, Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Montana are all among the top 12 states in the nation with most vehicle miles traveled per capita, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics for 2010.

The states with the lowest fatal car crash rate for teens, according to the Erie study, are:
  1. District of Columbia -- 1.7 deaths per 100,000 teen motorists. That's 85 percent less than the national rate for drivers 20 and older.
  2. New York -- 7.6 and 33 percent lower.
  3. Rhode Island -- 8.4 and 24 percent lower.
  4. Massachusetts -- 8.8 and 22 percent lower.
  5. New Jersey -- 8.9 and 21 percent lower.

Predictably, the report notes that most teens perish in accidents during the summer months and weekends when they aren't in school.

Why is the teen fatality rate higher in some states?

Conclusive answers are elusive, but one reason may be that some states have more comprehensive graduated driver licensing laws (GDLs) than others, according to Cristy Coté, an Erie spokesperson. (See: " The importance of graduated driver license programs.")

GDLs phase in driving experience for younger drivers, allowing beginners to gain experience under lower-risk driving situations first, before they gradually move on to more complex conditions. The graduated period in most states begins at 15 or 16 and continues to a full driver's license by the time the teen reaches 17.

"IIHS research shows that state graduated driving laws have helped reduce teen crash rates significantly in recent years, but the laws vary in strength," she says. "Their research shows that every state could reduce its rate by adopting stronger GDL laws."

Parents need to help guide teen drivers

Beyond forceful GDL programs, Coté suggests parents and their kids consider these Erie recommendations:
  • Don't only tell, show: "A recent 'Consumer Reports' survey found that 48 percent of young drivers witnessed their mother or father talking on a handheld phone while driving -- and another 15 percent witnessed a parent texting while behind the wheel," according to Erie's website. "Your teen is looking to you for cues, so be a role model and put down the phone." (See: "Wrong way! 5 outdated driving tips parents teach teens.")
  • Focus on your state's driving laws: "States are increasingly banning phone use while driving," Erie notes. "So while your teen driver should have a hands-off phone policy because it's the right thing to do, penalties for getting caught could serve as an extra incentive."
  • Put it in writing with your teen: The insurer has a free, downloadable "safe driving contract" to discuss with a young driver at its Join the Shift site.
  • Let them know what not to do: Don't only point out good driving habits; also, emphasize the bad ones that teens need to avoid.

Car insurance discounts for teen drivers

The parent-teen driving contract may also get you a small discount, usually less than 5 percent, on your insurance premiums. Here are some other ways you can reduce the bill (See: "Cheap car insurance for young drivers"):
  • Good student discount -- generally up to 10 percent.
  • Extra driving class discount -- 5 percent.
  • Get a safer car -- insurers typically charge lower premiums for autos with high safety ratings.
  • Distant student discount -- generally from 5 to 10 percent.