Newly-released data has shown that America’s roads are not as safe as many may have thought. The National Safety Council recently published a report that traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent last year. In 2015, fatalities rose by about 7 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not released its official findings yet (which takes into account deaths that don’t take place on public roads), but they estimate deaths rose by 8 percent.
Though traffic death rates have fallen by nearly 25 percent since a decade ago, this emerging trend shows 2016 was the deadliest year on record since 2007. Experts believe many different factors have played a role in this increase, from the economy to the climate to driving habits. Regardless of the cause, traffic injuries and deaths have a massive impact on the national economy and the well-being of American citizens as a whole.
The Top Cause? Driving Habits
How we drive has, perhaps, the biggest effect on traffic fatalities. The National Safety Council recently surveyed about 2,000 adults who drive at least 15 minutes a day and have a valid driver’s license. About 83 percent of respondents said driving was a major safety concern for them. However, those same respondent’s driving habits painted a different picture.
About 10 percent of drivers said they drove after drinking, and drove dangerously because of it. Others said they drove after smoking marijuana or taking prescription painkillers/opiates. While these choices are obviously frowned upon, many more revealed they drove in the same way as many Americans.
Nearly two thirds said they felt comfortable speeding, while about half said they were comfortable texting either manually or by way of Siri, Ok Google or other voice controls. (As it turns out, there is no difference in distraction levels between manually texting and using voice commands.)
Other Factors that Increased Fatalities
Of course, unsafe driving practices aren’t the only cause of increased traffic fatalities. Gas prices have plummeted in recent years, and as such, more people are able to afford driving around. Moreover, the economy has mostly recovered from the Great Recession of 2008, so more cars are on the road as more people drive to work and for pleasure. With more people driving more regularly, traffic fatality rates naturally increased.
An often overlooked but significant factor in the increase in traffic fatalities is climate change. When the weather is warm, traffic deaths increase. This happens for a few different reasons. Warmer weather invites more drivers to hit the road with the windows down, enjoying the day. However, it also invites more people to get out and walk, bike, ride their motorcycles and take other forms of transportation that don’t provide the same protection as a passenger vehicle. When these individuals are in an accident with a car driver, the risk for death is much greater.
The Cost of Increased Fatalities
There is a very real economic cost associated with so many traffic accidents and fatalities. It is estimated that, between deaths, injuries and property damage, $432 billion was spent or lost due to traffic accidents in 2016. This statistic includes costs like medical expenses, lost productivity and wages, employer costs, property damage and administrative expenses. Economic costs increased by 12 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Of course, the human cost of traffic fatalities is far more pressing than any economic loss. Every day, thousands of families across the United States are suddenly faced with the fact that their loved one has been killed or seriously injured in a car wreck. While eliminating all traffic accidents may only happen when every person is driving an autonomous vehicle, for now these statistics can be reduced for 2017 by adopting safer driving habits, from slowing down to getting off the phone.