2015 Traffic Death Spike is the Highest in 50 Years

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
2015 traffic death spike is the highest in 50 years

Traffic deaths skyrocketed last year by the largest amount since 1966, erasing safety gains made in recent years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released raw 2015 data yesterday, revealing that 35,092 people died on U.S. roads — a 7.2 percent spike in fatalities compared to the previous year. The data shows the deaths weren’t confined to any particular demographic.

As bad as it sounds, the increase is less than the NHTSA’s July estimate of a 7.7-percent gain.

Vehicles are safer today than even a decade ago, when traffic deaths were 25-percent higher, but a range of factors cancelled out the extra airbags and driving aids offered up by automakers.

The NHTSA blames low fuel prices, job growth, increased leisure driving, and increased youth driving for the increase in vehicles on the road. Vehicle miles traveled rose by 3.5 percent in 2015, the largest increase in a quarter century. And more vehicles boost the odds that some of them will crash.

Data shows that old habits die hard — in this case, literally. Lawmakers have made gains in reducing impaired driving, but a third of last year’s crashes can be blamed on drunk driving and simple speeding. About half of the vehicle occupants killed weren’t wearing a seatbelt. One in ten deaths involved distracted driving.

The jump in fatalities occurred outside of vehicles, too. Motorcycle deaths rose 8 percent, while deaths of pedestrians and cyclists rose 20 percent compared to the year before.

Not surprisingly, the federal government wants to bring those numbers down. The Department of Transportation, along with the NHTSA and the White House released a call to action in the wake of the findings. The government wants experts, scientists and safety groups to propose “novel solutions to old challenges.”

“The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled,” said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind in a release. “While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”

At the very least, expect new campaigns against drunk, distracted and reckless driving in the short-term.

[Image: Bryce Watanabe/ Flickr]

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  • Donk1 Donk1 on Aug 30, 2016

    Maybe a concerted effort on Random Breath Testing & Mobile Drug testing will alleviate some issues there. The biggest problem in the US is not enforcing the compulsory use of seat belts for front & back seat passengers. Australia was the first country in the world for compulsory wearing by all passengers in 1971 & road deaths here are still historically low, despite an increase in drink & drug impaired drivers. An increase of speed limits to 120km/h on some freeways & a reduction of speed limits on others have helped the road toll to stay relatively low. Food for thought for over in the States.

  • S_a_p S_a_p on Sep 02, 2016

    Im just going to go ahead and point out the elephant in the room that most here seem to be forgetting. Humans cannot handle smart phones and driving at the same time. I drive 40 miles each way of my daily commute through Houston traffic. 80-90% of the slowdowns and fender benders are directly related to telephone use. While Houston is growing, traffic is getting worse because people cannot stay off of their telephones. A few weeks ago I was almost hit in a crosswalk by a driver who was so busy texting that he didnt check the crosswalk(that I had the ROW in) before turning. Texting/Phone use in Houston is a serious issue now, and I will pay to be on one lane toll roads just because it is safer.

    • JimC2 JimC2 on Sep 03, 2016

      "A few weeks ago I was almost hit in a crosswalk by a driver who was so busy texting that he didnt check the crosswalk(that I had the ROW in) before turning." You're looking at this situation TOTALLY the wrong way. You need to keep your head on a swivel and look for opportunity. When the next bad multitasker (someone who can't competently text and drive at the same time) almost runs you down, spot them before it happens. Then whirl into action: give a hard, solid kick to the door and then start screaming to high heaven how you are injured.

  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I bet it has some electrical gremlins as well. Nonetheless it might make an interesting El Camino pickup truck conversation with one of those kits.
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
  • ToolGuy It is raining super-hard outside right now.
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