Traffic Fatalities Rose Sharply Across the Nation in 2015
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Traffic Fatalities Rose Sharply Across the Nation in 2015

The increase ended a five-decade-long trend of declining fatalities

August 31, 2016

More than 35,000 people died in traffic crashes in the U.S. in 2015, a 7.2 percent increase from 2014.

The number of deaths rose across almost every part of the population.

This increase ended a trend of declining fatalities that had lasted five decades. The last increase of this size in a single year was in 1966, when the number of deaths increased 8.1 percent from the year before.

"Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation's roads every year," said U.S. 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."

The number of traffic-related fatalities was almost 25 percent higher in 2005 with 42,708 deaths confirmed. Since that time, the number of deaths has been cut due to safety programs that increased seat belt use and reduced the number of people driving when impaired. Improvements in vehicles, such as air bags and electronic stability control, also contributed to the decrease.

To address this increase, the Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the White House are joining together in a call to action requesting several stakeholders to help figure out the causes.

"NHTSA will share its Fatality Analysis Reporting System with safety partners, state and local officials, technologists, data scientists, and policy experts," explained NHTSA in a press release. "And private sector partners using new data collection technologies will be offering access to unprecedented amounts of data and new visualizations tools."

NHTSA states that job growth and low fuel prices were among the factors that led to increased driving, which may have contributed to the increase in fatalities. The number of vehicle miles traveled in 2015 went up by 3.5 percent from 2014, the biggest rise in almost 25 years. Human factors also contributed to most crashes.

"Almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts," said the press release. "Research shows almost one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding. One in 10 fatalities involved distraction."

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

Fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists rose higher than they had been in 20 years, and motorcyclist fatality rates also rose more than eight percent.