Following the 7.2 percent jump in traffic fatalities in 2015, when 35,092 deaths were reported, it was made clear by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that we've hit a crisis in road traffic accidents. But this upward trend still seems to be accelerating – and fast.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) just reported that in the first half of 2016, there were 17,775 driving-related deaths, up from 16,100 in the same period last year. This means that the fatality rate on U.S. roads has climbed to 10.4 percent, costing an estimated $205 Billion.
At this point, Americans are falling victim to fatal vehicle accidents at the rate of 2 loaded 747s crashing every week. And these victims include all types of road users, from trucks to pedestrians. But while federal officials stress the gravity of this reality, there is still hope for improvement in the future.
Why Are Traffic Death Rates Still Escalating Out of Control?
As these 2016 findings are still fairly new, officials haven't yet identified a specific cause for the 10.4 percent increase in traffic deaths.
Indeed, this surge seems to defy all the recent effort put into road safety. Cars are built safer and more durable than ever before, and increasingly utilize technologies such as collision detection. Roadways have been improved. Police are stamping down on drunk driving: the leading cause of serious crashes.
But as the economy recovers and unemployment rates lessen, Americans are driving more than ever before. In the first half of this year, there was a correlation between the number of traffic deaths and miles driven. About 1.5 trillion miles were covered: a 3.3 percent increase from last year. And more driving means more opportunity for people to take unnecessary risks – for example, young people driving to and from nights out in which they have been drinking alcohol.
Authorities have also cited vehicle defects as part of the problem, but these only account for roughly 5 percent of traffic deaths. The other 95 percent is down to human negligence such as speeding, alcohol or drug impairment, and distraction. Distracted driving, for example, causes 1 in 9 deaths on the road. The use of mobile devices behind the wheel has become a serious issue, with drivers admitting to everything from texting while driving to playing Pokémon GO.
Even when the 2015 statistics were released, head of the NHTSA Mark Rosekind remarked that it was “a wake-up call.” Now, he says, “We have an immediate crisis on our hands, and we also have a long-term challenge.”
The Long, Hard Road to Zero
The latest motor vehicle accident figures were released in conjunction with the announcement of a new, somewhat ambitious, initiative: “Road to Zero.”
As impossible as it sounds, the Department of Transportation hopes to completely eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries in the U.S. by 2046.
The campaign is dedicating $1 Million a year for the next 3 years to short-term resolutions, including increasing awareness of seatbelt safety. This could make a surprising difference, considering around half of drivers and passengers killed in crashes last year were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of their fatal crash. Then, the hope is that in the long term, self-driving cars will vastly improve from where they are now. Such improvement might make it possible to bring an end to traffic fatalities, since human error is responsible for so many crashes.
The government is also hoping to invest in technology that helps officials to better interpret crash data, following patterns such as market trends and climate change to see how they might affect the fatality rate.
Clearly, the situation had to hit rock bottom to spur initiatives such as the “Road to Zero” into action. But at least significant steps are now being taken to make technology a solution, rather than the enemy. Careless driving has become too large of a problem to ignore. But without the potential for human mistakes to be made, the reversal of serious incidents on our roads could be staggering.