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While there has been a significant decrease in the number of fatalities caused by roadway accidents over recent years, the numbers for vehicle accident deaths has risen sharply in 2015. Early estimates released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that traffic deaths increased by more than 9.5 percent for the first quarter of 2015 to approximately 7500 fatalities.

This number is significantly surprising even though more Americans are now driving longer distances the than in recent years. Even though the amount of miles traveled by Americans in the first quarter of 2014 was up by nearly 10 billion miles – which translates to a 3.9 percent increase – traffic deaths were almost 3 times higher than that percentage wise. The NHTSA is unaware of why the rise in deaths have occurred.

Road Fatalities Increase in 2015Anthony Fox, the U.S Transportation Secretary responded that, “These numbers are call to action.” In addition, he said, “Everyone with a responsibility for road safety – the Federal, State and local governments, law enforcement, vehicle manufacturers, safety advocates and road users – needs to reassess our efforts to combat threats to safety. US DOT will redouble our efforts on safety and we expect our partners to do the same.”

The Effectiveness of Safety Initiatives

In recent months, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration introduced various safety initiatives in an effort to combat the problem. This includes utilizing speed technology innovations that are known to enhance safety along with the first comprehensive effort by the agency to fight the problem of drowsy driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association Executive Director Barber Harsha said that “the news, while disheartening, is not surprising.” She added, “With the improving economy in historically low levels of motor vehicle deaths in recent years, we expect the desk to increase. Highway deaths have been declining significantly in recent years.”

Smart Phone Use Increasing Traffic Deaths

Distracted driving, especially the use of smart phone technology could be making driving more dangerous in America. This reaction is in response to preliminary government statistics that suggest record low gasoline prices mixed with a growing economy has more than doubled the increase of expected deaths in 2015. However, other significant factors including the use of smart phones likely has some role in the increasing numbers.

Driving while distracted has been seen as a significant problem for many years, where motorists consume food, drink beverages, play with the radio and groom themselves all while behind the wheel. However, in recent years, with the invention of smart phone technology, many individuals are checking their email, talking to friends on the phone and texting/reading messages while driving. Many jurisdictions are failing to prohibit the use of handheld smart phone technology, much like they have avoided motorcycle helmet laws and the mandatory use of seatbelts.

“Risky drivers,” who are typically classified as teenagers or young adults, are also seen as a major factor involved in the rising deaths on America’s roadways. A lack of experience under certain driving conditions mixed with distracted driving is thought to be a leading reason for the rise in deaths in 2015.

Tips for Saving Lives

The National Safety Council is recommending that motorists and passengers follow specific guidelines to minimize the potential of being involved in a fatal accident. Some of these recommendations include:

  • Avoid fatigue driving by taking regular breaks and getting plenty of sleep.
  • Ensure that every passenger is buckled up in their seatbelt before moving the vehicle.
  • Designate a driver to be alcohol and drug free or arrange alternative transportation options when out partying.
  • Encourage optimal teenage driving habits because teens are 300 percent more likely to be involved in an accident compared to older, more experienced motorists.
  • Never use a cell phone for any reason while driving the vehicle – this includes hands-free devices or texting while driving.
  • Understand all the safety features on the vehicle and use them appropriately.

Driving safely is the responsibility of every motorist who shares the roadway with other drivers and passengers. Maintaining a safe environment always requires remaining focused on the roadway ahead and alert of road and weather problems, traffic conditions and the surrounding area. As more Americans continue to drive more miles each year due to lower gas prices and a strengthening economy, the number of road fatalities will likely continue to increase in the years ahead.