Traffic fatalities in the U.S., already at a 50-year high, leaped again last year dramatically, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Traffic data collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia show that 37,461 people were killed on U.S. highways and roads in 2016, an increase of 5.6 percent from 2015, NHTSA reported.
Part of the rise in traffic fatalities can be attributed to a corresponding leap in the number of vehicle miles traveled on U.S. roads in 2016. According to NHTSA, vehicle miles traveled increased by 2.2 percent last year, resulting in about 1.18 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled – a 2.6 percent increase over 2015’s rates.
But human behavior accounts for most traffic fatalities by far, with some surprising twists.
NHTSA found that traffic fatalities related to distracted driving and fatigued driving declined, while traffic deaths related to other reckless behaviors – including speeding, drunk driving, and failure to wear seat belts – soared. Motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths accounted for more than a third of the year-to-year increase.
Some key findings of NHTSA’s 2016 analysis of traffic fatalities:
- Driver distraction-related deaths (3,450 fatalities) decreased by 2.2 percent;
- Fatigued driving deaths (803 fatalities) decreased by 3.5 percent;
- Drunk-driving deaths (10,497 fatalities) increased by 1.7 percent;
- Speeding-related deaths (10,111 fatalities) increased by 4.0 percent;
- Unbelted deaths (10,428 fatalities) increased by 4.6 percent;
- Motorcyclist deaths (5,286 fatalities – the largest number of motorcyclist fatalities since 2008) increased by 5.1 percent;
- Pedestrian deaths (5,987 fatalities – the highest number since 1990) increased by 9.0 percent;
- Bicyclist deaths (840 fatalities – the highest number since 1991) increased by 1.3 percent.
NHTSA said it continues to work closely with its state and local partners, law enforcement agencies, and more than 350 members of its “Road to Zero Coalition” to address the human behaviors that are linked to 94 percent of serious crashes.
The agency also said it “continues to promote vehicle technologies that hold the potential to reduce the number of crashes and save thousands of lives every year, and may eventually help reduce or eliminate human error and the mistakes that drivers make behind the wheel.”