Traffic Fatalities Fell in 2014, But Were Alarmingly Higher in 2015
June 20th, 2016
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According to a report recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of traffic deaths in the United States fell slightly in 2014, but then ticked up dramatically during 2015. In a separate report, government officials estimated that, for the first nine months of 2015, some 26,000 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, an increase of 9.3 percent over the first nine months of the previous year. In fact, NHTSA is so concerned with the dangerous trend that in late 2015, and again in early 2016, it launched a series of safety initiatives.
“For decades, U.S. DOT has been driving safety improvements on our roads, and those efforts have resulted in a steady decline in highway deaths,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “But the apparent increase in 2015 is a signal that we need to do more.”
Renewed Focus on Human Factors
Most of the NHTSA initiatives focus on human factors, such as speeding and alcohol use. Indeed, according to decades of NHTSA research, human factors contribute to 94 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said, “While great public attention is focused on safety defects and recalls, and rightfully so, it is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction, and other risks that kill thousands every year, and time for state and local governments to reassess whether they are making the right policy choices to improve highway safety.”
Multiple Conditions Seem to Be Combining to Cause More Accidents
At least part of the problem seems to be flowing from a general improvement in the overall economy. According to NHTSA experts, job growth and low fuel prices have tended to increase the number of miles driven. With more driving comes more accidents. The improved economy has also resulted in increased leisure driving and driving by young people, which can contribute to higher fatality rates.
NHTSA Points to “Stubborn” Trends
In spite of education efforts, public campaigns, and increased enforcement of traffic laws by the nation’s police forces, a number of “stubborn” trends continue, including:
- One third of auto crash fatalities (9,967 deaths in 2014) continue to be linked to drunk driving
- Nearly half of all passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2014 were not wearing seat belts
- Distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities (3,179 deaths in 2014)
- “Drowsy” driving accounted for 2.6 percent of crash fatalities in the same period
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