Cars today are safer than ever. We’ve got anti-lock brakes and airbags and all sorts of new technology to help keep us safe on the roads. Despite greatly improved safety versus what was around only a few years ago, traffic fatalities are way up this year and on pace to set a new record.
According to the National Safety Council, 18,630 people were killed on US roads during the first six months of this year. That’s a 14 percent increase over last year and doesn’t bode well for year end numbers. It could be the worst year for traffic deaths in almost ten years.
We are on pace to see 40,000 deaths for the first time since 2007 with the highest year-over-year increase in 69 years, and it’s not just motorists who are in trouble. Pedestrian deaths are also up over the last five years, which can largely be blamed on distraction. Walking and texting can prove hazard to your health.
But what is going on with all these driver deaths? There’s no definitive answer, although it could be partly blamed on distracted driving. That still doesn’t explain why this year has been so bad. Cell phones are nothing new and hands-free technology has made drivers less likely to look at that little screen.
The answer could be the currently thriving economy.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in June and July. That’s the lowest that number has been since 2008 according to AutoBlog. The last time traffic deaths topped 40K was in 2007. This year has also seen gas prices down by 30 percent over last year. How exactly do these things cause an uptick in traffic deaths?
If you’re unemployed, then you’re not likely to spend money driving around and taking road trips. If gas prices are high you likewise can’t afford to be on the road. Both of those obstacles have been removed which means more people on the highways than usual. US motorists drove 1,264.5 billion miles through May which is 3.6 percent more than last year.
The numbers don’t correlate perfectly, but there is clearly a connection. More cars on the road means there’s a greater chance those cars will be bumping into each other.
Summer is almost over, but there are still plenty of people on the road for vacation. Let this serve as your reminder to buckle-up, put down the phone, and keep an eye on what’s happening around you on crowded highways.