National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated the United States is in a crisis situation when it comes to road safety. The problem: the number of car accident fatalities has risen sharply for the second year in a row, according to Reuters. The increase in auto accident fatalities over the past two years has been dramatic, with greater year-to-year increases than have occurred in decades. Until something is done to turn this troubling trend around, it is likely there will continue to be more deaths on the road next year as well.
NHTSA hopes to stop this troubling trend by working with state and federal agencies to implement a Vision Zero program which sets the goal of reaching zero fatalities in auto accidents nationwide within 30 years. But this is a long timeline, and swift action is needed now to try to curb rising death and injury rates.
Steady Rise in Car Accident Fatalities is a Crisis on U.S. Roads
Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 7.2 percent increase in car accident fatalities, and a total of 35,092 people died. This represents the largest year-to-year rise in traffic fatalities to occur since 1966. The NHTSA Administrator referred to the increase as a crisis at that time, and since then, things have only gotten worse.
Preliminary reports from the first six months of 2016 are now in and the data is not good. There have already been 17,775 fatalities in the first half of the year. Experts are predicting the data from the second half of the year will show another uptick in car accident deaths because July through December sees more bad weather in many parts of the country. There are also seasonal shifts in driving, and some of the days of the year with the highest number of fatal car accidents include Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
If this trend holds and the data comes in as expected, the final death toll for 2016 could be around 40,000. The first six months alone saw a 10.4 percent increase from 2015, which had already had a dramatic increase in deaths compared with the year prior.
Distracted driving plays a role in this increased crash rate, as the number of people with smart phones and with infotainment systems in their vehicles is steadily increasing. According to Statista, the number of people worldwide who have smart phones is expected to reach 2.1 billion. This is up from 1.57 billion smart phone users in 2014. Many new vehicles are also sold with built-in GPS screens and satellite radio, either of which can take attention away from the road.
Other factors contributing to the added car accident risk include an increase in total miles driven, as gas prices have fallen and as economic conditions have improved. As the number of drivers on the road goes up, it becomes even more essential to make safer driving choices in order to not cause crashes.