U.S. Traffic Deaths Hit a Decade High in 2016

Believe it or not, the increase isn't because of distracted driving.

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Disturbing new statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show a 5.6 percent total increase in U.S. traffic deaths, growing the number to 37,461, the highest number since 2007. Traffic deaths per capita are up as well with the NHTSA citing a 2.6 percent jump in deaths per 100 million miles driven which has grown to 1.8, up 2.6 percent from 2015.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the second year in a row that traffic deaths have gone up. In 2015, the fatal statistic made a significant jump of 8.4 percent which was the biggest jump in one year since 1964. Before 2015, traffic deaths in the U.S. were steadily falling for a decade thanks to safety improvements from automakers.

So, what is going on? Why the big jump? Your first assumption might be distracted driving, and that would be fair. However, deaths caused by distracted driving (texting, eating, having sex, etc.) are down 2.2 percent and deaths caused by drivers falling asleep decreased by 3.5 percent.

The type of accident that increased the most was those involving the elderly. The NHTSA report shows an 8.2 percent increase in fatal crashes where the driver was 65 years old or older. Another area where traffic deaths increased is drunk driving which is up 1.7 percent while speeding-related deaths are up 4 percent.

This should go without saying, but one of the easiest ways to prevent a fatality in a car accident is to wear your seatbelt. 48 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in an accident in 2016 was not wearing a seatbelt. However, seat belt usage is up slightly to 90.1 percent in 2016, a 1.6 percent increase over 2015.

The silver lining to this rather depressing study is the new safety revolution we’re currently experiencing in new cars. We have data that shows modern safety tech in cars actually works in preventing accidents. As technologies like lane keeping assist and blind spot detection become more mainstream, hopefully, we’ll see a reverse in the trend of traffic fatalities. Not to mention the self-driving cars on the horizon which some say could eliminate up to 90 percent of all auto accidents.