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A Reason for the Rise in Highway Fatalities

By Mark S. Kuhar

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just released its statistics on automobile fatalities and the news is grim.

The number of people who died in auto accidents reached 35,092 last year. That’s a 7.2 percent increase over 2014. The last time there was such a large single-year increase was 1966.

“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we’re issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”

According to NHTSA, job growth and low fuel prices were two factors that led to increased driving, including increased leisure driving and driving by young people. More driving can contribute to higher fatality rates. In 2015, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 3.5 percent over 2014, the largest increase in nearly 25 years.

Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities increased to a level not seen in 20 years. Motorcyclist deaths increased more than 8 percent. NHTSA also noted human factors continued to contribute to the majority of crashes. Almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. Research shows almost one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding. One in 10 fatalities involved distraction.

While NHSTA flails about searching for reasons for the increase in fatalities, they fail to mention something: The deteriorating condition of America’s infrastructure. The rise in highway fatalities mirrors the resent rise in the number of deficient roads and bridges.

When Congress passed the five-year, $305 billion “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act” on Dec. 3, 2015, it was a step in the right direction. But we need a stronger program. If the upcoming presidential election is any indication, real help is not coming any time soon. Read our special report, “Election Exclusive: America’s Infrastructure,” on page 18.

A rise in traffic fatalities ought to be a huge red flag. A 21st century approach to infrastructure is needed now.


Mark S. Kuhar, Editor,

[email protected]‐, (330) 722‐4081