Traffic Accident Deaths Still Increasing as Distracted Driving Reports Decline

October 9, 2017

Traffic accident deaths in the U.S. continue to rise, even while deaths related to distracted driving decline.

Pedestrian and motorcyclist deaths are way up.

The number of vehicle miles traveled on U.S. roads in 2016 increased by 2.2 percent, producing a fatality rate of 1.18 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) – a 2.6-percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest overview and analysis from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There were 37,461 lives lost on U.S. roads in 2016, an increase of 5.6 percent from calendar year 2015, according to NHTSA data, which was collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The 5.6-percent increase from 2015 to 2016 is down from the 8.4-percent increase from 2014 to 2015.

The last time the United States had similar back-to-back fatality increases of this magnitude was from 1963 to 1964 (9.4%) and from 1964 to 1965 (3.2%), according to NHTSA.

Distracted and Drowsy Driving

NHTSA found that distracted driving and drowsy driving fatalities declined, while deaths related to other reckless behaviors – including speeding, alcohol impairment, and not wearing seat belts – continued to increase. The number of fatalities in distraction affected crashes decreased by 2.2 percent from 3,526 in 2015 to 3,450 in 2016. Fatalities in distraction affected crashes were 9.2 percent of total fatalities in 2016.

The number of fatalities involving a drowsy driver decreased by 3.5 percent from 832 in 2015 to 803 in 2016. Fatalities involving a drowsy driver were 2.1 percent of total fatalities in 2016.

Motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths accounted for more than a third of the year-to-year increase. There were 11.5 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states without universal helmet laws (1,923 unhelmeted fatalities) as in states with universal helmet laws (166 unhelmeted fatalities) in 2016.

Every month except January, August and December saw increases in fatalities from 2015 to 2016. The highest increase was in February at 22.7 percent.

The 2016 national data shows that:

  • Distraction-related deaths (3,450 fatalities) decreased by 2.2 percent;
  • Drowsy-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; and
  • Bicyclist deaths (840 fatalities – the highest number since 1991) increased by 1.3 percent.

NHTSA has been promoting safe vehicle technologies that promise to reduce the number of crashes and save lives. The organization is also involved in the debate over regulation of autonomous vehicles. Congress is considering legislation that would would grant the NHTSA the authority to exempt self-driving vehicles from existing federal safety requirements.

Additional facts from the NHTSA report:

  • Motorcyclist fatalities for people 60 or older saw 156 more fatalities in 2016 than in 2015, an increase of 21.5 percent. Overall, there were 257 more motorcyclist fatalities in 2016, an increase of 5.1 percent over 2015.
  • The number of young drivers 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes increased by 3.6 percent from 2015; the number of young drivers who died in fatal crashes also increased by 0.1 percent from 2015.
  • Among drivers involved in crashes the 16-to-24 age group had a 9.4-percent increase and the 65+ age group had a 9.9-percent increase from 2014 to 2015; whereas from 2015 to 2016 the 16-to-24 age group had a 4.0-percent increase while the 65+ age group had an 8.2-percent increase.
  • There is a 10-year trend of more older drivers being involved in fatal crashes than younger drivers in general. The 65+ age group has the largest percent increases compared to the other age groups.

Source: NHTSA’s 2016 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview

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