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The Big Reveal: Huge Increase in Traffic Deaths in 2016


Earlier this year, the National Security Council released its findings showing that traffic deaths had increased by 8% from 2014-2015, meaning that 2015 had the highest one year percentage increase in half a century. To put the increase in context, traffic deaths increased .5% from 2013-2014, and decreased 3% from 2012-2013. The unprecedented 8% increase in 2015 translates to 38,300 people killed on U.S. roads and another 4.4 million injured.

The economic costs of these accidents are equally staggering: wage and productivity losses, medical and administrative expenses, and property damages came to an estimated $412.1 billion in 2015. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx summarized: "Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation's roads every year."


That was 2015. Data from the first six months of 2016 reveals something even more alarming: traffic deaths have increased 9% over the increase during the same period in 2015. To add context, the number of traffic fatalities in the first six months of 2016 represents an 18% increase since 2014. In addition, traffic fatalities have skyrocketed in seven states since 2014, including Georgia, which has seen a 34% increase in traffic deaths. (The other states and their rates of increase in traffic deaths are as follows: Florida 43%; Indiana 33%; California 31%; North Carolina 26%; Illinois 24% and Kentucky 24%).

Along with the sharp increase in deaths from motor vehicle accidents, the death toll of those who share the road with motor vehicles also increased greatly from 2014-2015: cyclists 12.2%; motorcyclists 8.3%; and pedestrians 9.5%.


Most experts point to an improving economy as the reason for the increase in traffic fatalities. Conventional wisdom holds that lower unemployment and cheaper gas prices mean that people have more ability to travel places. The more miles driven, the more accidents and fatalities that occur. In fact, when the Great Recession began in 2008, traffic fatalities dropped 9%, presumably because people lacked the resources to travel.

As the economy has improved, vehicle miles traveled have correspondingly increased. From 2014-2015, the VMT increase was 3.5%, the biggest increase in 25 years. However, this still only accounts for under half of the total increase in traffic deaths from 2014-2015. So what accounts for the other half of the huge increase?

Cell phones. While the Great Recession was unfolding from 2008-2015, cell phone use and possession became ubiquitous. Distracted driving, distracted walking--the so-called "Petextrian"--and even distracted cycling have become all too common, and all too common sources of accidents. It is difficult to know exactly how much of the increase in traffic deaths is due to use of cell phones because accident investigations do not routinely include looking at cell phone records to determine if the driver or drivers were using their phones at the time of the accident. However, from the investigations that do look into cell phone use, as well as eye witness testimony, passenger accounts and the admissions of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, statistics emerge that show a startling number of traffic fatalities and injuries caused by cell phone distraction.

What technology causes, however, technology can cure. At least that is part of the allure of automated vehicle technology. Whether it is assisted parking, lane changing, emergency braking, or eventually fully automated vehicles, the goal is to decrease the component of human error and thus decrease accidents. Some of the current automated driving assists track and sound an alarm when a driver's eyes leave the road for too long, either to focus on a cell phone or to not focus at all (to fall asleep at the wheel). Making this technology standard in cars would go a long way toward decreasing driver distraction and accidents due to it. As Deborah A.P. Hersman, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and current President and CEO of the National Safety Council stated: "100 traffic deaths per day should not be ok. It should outrage us."


If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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