Sharp increase in US road deaths since 2015

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There has been a sharp rise in road deaths in the USA over the past year, with 35,092 people dying in traffic crashes in 2015, a 7.2% increase on 2014. It is the first time in fifty years that an increase of this magnitude has been witnessed. 

The final data released by the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed traffic deaths rising across nearly every segment of the population. The last single-year increase of this magnitude was in 1966, when fatalities rose 8.1% from the previous year. 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 seatbelt use and reducing impaired driving. Vehicle improvements, including air bags and electronic stability control, have also contributed to reducing traffic fatalities.

In response to the increase, USDOT, NHTSA, and the White House are issuing an unprecedented call to action to involve a wide range of stakeholders in helping determine the causes of the increase. The NHTSA will share its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) with safety partners, state and local officials, technologists, data scientists, and policy experts. And private sector partners using new data collection technologies will be offering access to unprecedented amounts of data and new visualizations tools. In addition to the call to action, USDOT will hold a special session at its ‘Safer People, Safer Streets Summit’ on September 16 to discuss the pedestrian and bicycle fatality increase with city leaders taking part in the Mayors’ Challenge.

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. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increased to a level not seen in 20 years. Motorcyclist deaths increased over 8%. NHTSA also noted human factors continued to contribute to the majority of crashes. Almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. Research shows almost one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding. One in 10 fatalities involved distraction.

“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” said US Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx. “Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we’re issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”

NHTSA Administrator Dr Mark Rosekind, added, “The data tells us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled. While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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