There was an alarming increase in traffic deaths on U.S. highways last year. The number of U.S. traffic accidents soared in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 35,092 people died in traffic crashes on U.S. highways last year – a rise of 7.2 percent from the number of deaths reported in 2014.
The last time there was an increase of this magnitude from one year to another was in 1966. That was two years before safety belts became mandatory standard equipment in new cars. That year, the number of traffic fatalities jumped 8.1. percent over the previous year’s toll.
Pedestrian and bicycling fatalities have also increased to a level not seen in 20 years. Motorcyclist deaths increased more than 8 percent. Drunk driving deaths went up 3.2 percent, from 9,943 in 2014 to 10,265 in 2015. Nearly half of vehicle occupants killed in 2015 weren’t wearing a seat belt. It’s significant that one in 10 traffic deaths involved distracted driving, such as using a smartphone to text while driving.
In the 10 years prior to 2015, U.S. roads and highways were becoming progressively safer, with the number of deaths falling an impressive 25 percent since 2005, when 42,708 people were killed in traffic accidents. NHTSA attributes that significant decline to a series of aggressive safety and awareness campaigns that increased seat belt use and reduced impaired driving. Better safety technology and other vehicle improvements, including air bags and electronic stability control, also contributed to this decline.
So why the sudden surge in fatal traffic accidents? According to NHTSA, job growth and low fuel prices were two factors that led to increased driving, which can translate into higher fatality rates to some degree. U.S. motorists traveled 3.5 percent more miles in 2015 than in 2005 – the largest increase in 25 years. But this doesn’t explain the full picture. The bottom line is – in short – U.S. safety officials simply don’t have an answer.
The sudden increase in traffic deaths prompted the Department of Transportation, NHTSA and the Obama Administration to issue an unprecedented call to action to involve state and local government officials, data scientists, public health experts, students, researchers, and anyone else to look at the data and share any insight they gain.
Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving
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