Last year the nation experienced the largest percentage increase in traffic fatalities in nearly half of a century, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The nation lost 35,092 people in traffic crashes last year, 7.2 percent more than in 2014. This is the highest percentage increase since 1965-66, when traffic fatalities rose 8.1 percent. According to NHTSA:
Ten years ago, the number of traffic deaths was nearly 25% higher, with 42,708 fatalities reported nationwide in 2005. Since then, safety programs have helped lower the number of deaths by increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving. Vehicle improvements, including air bags and electronic stability control, have also contributed to reducing traffic fatalities. After a decade-long downward trend, traffic deaths in 2015 increased by nearly one-third compared to 2014.
According to NHTSA, job growth and low fuel prices were two factors that led to increased driving, including increased leisure driving and driving by young people. More driving can contribute to higher fatality rates. In 2015, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 3.5% over 2014, the largest increase in nearly 25 years.
NHTSA also noted that almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts, and almost one in three fatalities involving drunk driving or speeding. One in ten involved distracted driving.
Unfortunately, the data does not appear to represent a one-year blip. The National Safety Council reports that traffic fatalities were 9 percent higher in January-June 2016 than during the same months the previous year.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has put out a “call to action” to researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the recently released final fatality data to help address the problem.