NHTSA: Traffic Fatalities Rose in 2015, Largest Uptick in Decades
Gregg Hollander | September 19, 2016 | Car Accidents
The latest government statistics on car accidents and resulting fatalities in the U.S. paints a troubling picture of the lack of safety on our national highways and roads.
Last year, the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes was nearly 35,100, according to the latest numbers released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That amounts to an increase of 7.2 percent over the previous year. To put that into perspective, the last year there was an increase that high was when Lyndon Johnson was president – way back in 1966. There were 2,348 more people killed in traffic crashes in 2015 as compared to 2014.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx lamented the increase in a press release, saying that even with decades of improved safety features and technology, there are still way too many people being killed on our roads. Fixing the problem, he said, is going to require effort from multiple sectors. His office is working to amass a coalition of safety experts, researchers, data scientists, law enforcement, technology firms, auto manufacturers and the public to help find effective ways to prevent these daily tragedies.
Although the actual number of deaths is down pretty substantially from 10 years ago (25 percent lower, in fact, than the 42,700 fatalities recorded back then), the increase is troubling because it bucks a consistent downward trend. This trend was the result of a myriad of different factors, including:
- More use of seat belts;
- Fewer drunk drivers (due to education and higher drunk driving penalties);
- Improvements with airbags;
- Better electronic stability control;
- Rear view cameras and automatic back-up alerts.
None of this changed. So what’s going on? Well, no one can say exactly for sure, but there are a few plausible theories.
First of all, more people are driving. You can thank the improving economy for that one. More people have jobs – and money in their pockets – and the ability to travel is expanded. In addition to that, fuel prices have been on the decline. When NHTSA researchers looked into the vehicle miles traveled in 2015 versus 2014, they noted a 3.5 percent increase. That is biggest bump for that factor in almost a quarter century. So more people on the road equals more roadway fatalities.
This increase has been particularly hazardous to bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. In fact, motorcycle deaths shot up 8 percent last year.
We also have an increasing number of drivers who are greatly distracted. We are reaching the point where almost 70 percent of people in the U.S. have a smartphone (according to the Pew Research Center). That figure is even higher when we’re talking about younger populations. With a personal computer/ communication device literally at everyone’s fingertips, it’s hard to stay focused on the mundane task of getting safely through traffic. It seems the dangers of texting while driving, talking while driving and playing on apps while driving still hasn’t been driven all the way home.
NHTSA officials say distracted driving accounts for about 10 percent of all motor vehicle accident deaths. Additionally, about 1 in 3 fatal crashes are caused by either speeding or drunk driving or both. It’s also no coincidence that about half of those killed in these wrecks weren’t wearing seat belts.
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Traffic fatalities up sharply in 2015, Aug. 29, 2016, NHTSA
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