A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 35,092 people died in car accidents in the U.S. last year – a 7.2% spike over 2014, and the biggest increase in 50 years.
The increased deaths are not just for passenger vehicles, but across all categories: cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, etc. According to the National Safety Council, North Carolina had the 5th highest increase in the number of car crash deaths in the United States from 2014 to 2015, a shocking 26% increase.
The sudden increase is surprising, since advances in safety, such as improved airbags, automated braking, backup cameras and blind spot warnings, should theoretically continue to prevent more and more accidents and make injuries less severe when they do happen.
Possible Reasons for the Increased Fatalities
In an effort to understand the causes of increased traffic deaths, the Department of Transportation, NHTSA and the White House are reaching out to the “hive mind” by releasing data to private-sector partners and requesting their assistance in analyzing data and providing hypotheses and viable solutions.
One thing that they know for sure is that job growth and low fuel prices meant that 3.5% more miles were driven in 2015 than in 2014 – the largest increase in almost 25 years. And experts can tell you that when the number of miles driven increases, so does the number of fatal car accidents.
According to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, most traffic fatalities are due to poor driver behavior. He states, “The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled…. While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”
Deaths from Distraction
Some experts suspect that the increase has something to do with increased distractions for drivers. Safety technology can help make crashes rarer and injuries less severe, but driver behavior is still the No. 1 factor in car crashes. The numbers for other types of human error do not change much from year to year, such as the number of people not wearing seatbelts (50% in fatal car accidents), or the number of people driving while intoxicated, but the number of people driving while distracted is on the rise.
With infotainment systems built into many vehicles and easy access to smartphones, many drivers have their attention diverted elsewhere. The uptick in distracted driving may explain the recent endorsement by the federal government of new self-driving car technology. Last month, federal auto safety regulators released the first guidelines for self-driving cars. Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council stated that highly automated vehicles “will save time, money and lives.”
Looking for Solutions
In crowd-sourcing data analysis, the government is looking not just for answers to why the number of accident fatalities is on the rise, but for new solutions to old problems. According to 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.”
If you have lost someone you love in a car accident or have been in an accident yourself, contact our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation. We serve the people of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, including the communities of Asheville, Waynesville, Franklin and Greenville and Spartanburg.