Concerns reignite over the dangers of distracted driving as the National Safety Council (NSC) estimates roadway fatalities of 40,200 people in 2016, an alarming increase of 6% over 2015 and 14% increase over 2014.
This represents the sharpest two-year increase in roadway deaths in over 50 years.
In 2014, the number of fatal accidents had decreased 25% when compared with 10 years prior, thought to be partly due to more advanced safety equipment in vehicles.
The NCS data does not directly compare to stats published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as it includes accidents that did not happen on public roadways, such as an incident in a driveway or parking lot.
Still awaiting NHTSA’s final data for year 2016, the agency did say that traffic fatalities had increased 8% January – September, 2016.
Factors in Roadway Deaths
One factor that typically increases roadway fatalities is gasoline prices. When prices are low, drivers travel more. When factoring a 3% increase in miles driven in the U.S. in 2016 however, the jump in fatalities exceed that pace.
The NSC says factors contributing to this include things like speeding, drunk driving and distracted driving, specifically texting while driving. It’s too early to name specific reasons, says the NSC, but they did cite survey results indicating 64% of drivers are “comfortable speeding” and almost 50% are “comfortable texting manually or through voice commands.”
Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association which represents nationwide highway safety offices, says, “With the economy getting better, people have more time and money to go out and drink, and then they drive home,” also noting people in rural areas do not have as much access to taxis or ride-shares.
Adkins also cited not using seat belts, higher speed limits and cellphones as contributing to the increase in fatalities last year.
According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teenagers are involved in traffic accidents three times more than drivers age 20 or over and NHTSA data shows 10% of teenagers involved in fatal crashes are caused by distracted driving.
Both auto makers and regulators hope that continued vehicle safety enhancements such as lane-keeping, distance control and automatic breaking could help reduce accidents. They also cite self-driving cars as another potential solution.