Traffic Fatalities Highest Since 2007

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Despite cars coming with an increasing number of safety features, traffic fatalities are at their highest since 2007. The U.S. Department of Transportation released its data for 2016 and the results are not good.

Data collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia shows that 37,461 people died on U.S. roads last year. That’s a 5.6 percent increase over 2015. Part of the increase can be attributed to an increase in the number of miles we drove, which naturally ups the number of incidents that will occur.

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The number of miles traveled increased by 2.2 percent, which works out to a fatality rate of 1.18 deaths per 100 miles. That’s still a 2.6 percent increase from last year, so even the extra miles driven doesn’t entirely explain the jump.

The causes for driving fatalities were broken down and certain categories showed a decrease. Fewer people died as a result of distracted driving, which is good news given how many things can take our attention from the road these days, but reckless driving fatalities are on the rise. According to the report,

  • 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
  • Bicycle deaths (840 fatalities – the highest number since 1991) increased by 1.3 percent.

Our vehicles may be safer for occupants, but the biggest increase in driving fatalities had nothing to do with the people inside the car. Pedestrian deaths took a 9 percent jump, which points to a whole new issue. Our cars are safer when we are in them, but people outside our cars are still at risk.

Safety features like forward collision warning and emergency braking help prevent pedestrian deaths, but the numbers show there’s a significant problem. Our cars are doing more to avoid hitting people, but more people are getting killed anyway.

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We’ve focused so much on distracted driving thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones, but what about distracted walking? You see it all the time. People walk into signs, each other, and open manholes because they’re too busy staring at their phones. The study didn’t breakdown the details of those pedestrian deaths, so there’s no way to know how many involved distracted pedestrians. Still, it’s a good reminder to pay attention when you’re around cars whether you’re driving, riding, or walking.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin