Be careful out there! Traffic deaths are up in the first half of 2015 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Researchers say it’s because more people are on the roads. Distracted driving may also play a role.
The raw number of deaths logged in the agency’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System remained relatively flat last year. That number dropped by 0.1 percent to 32,675 lives lost. Meanwhile, the rate of deaths, measured per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, dropped to a record low of 1.07.
The downward trend isn’t continuing for 2015, however. The death tally in the first half of the year shot up 8.1 percent from the same period last year, while the rate rose by 4.4 percent.
Under new leadership of NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind, an expert in fatigue management, the agency is taking a more comprehensive approach to ways to reduce deaths, rather than only focusing on single issues that contribute to accidents.
The agency says it will launch a cross-country program of regional meetings to address the many human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths. Those meetings will culminate in a national gathering in Washington, DC.
“Behavioral safety programs are the heart of NHTSA’s safety mission,” says Rosekind. “While great public attention is focused on safety defects and recalls, and rightfully so, it is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction and other risks that kill thousands every year, and time for State and local governments to reassess whether they are making the right policy choices to improve highway safety.”
Data suggests some trends are remaining “stubbornly constant” from year to year. A third of deaths are still associated with drunk driving, while half of all occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. Unsurprisingly, deaths of motorcyclists without helmets continued to remain far higher in states without strong helmet laws.
Despite the fear-inducing warnings, the NHTSA admits that the 2015 numbers have not been corrected for several statistical factors including gasoline prices, increased job growth, more driving by young people and increased leisure driving.