More people are dying in car accidents, but why?

August 24, 2016

It takes a while to gather data on auto fatalities. Typically, annual stats aren't available until late in the following year.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already has a solid hunch that deaths on U.S. roads increased in 2015, and now, the National Safety Council says considerably more drivers, passengers, and pedestrians have died in the first six months of 2016 than in previous years.*

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The NSC estimates that 19,100 people died on U.S. roads between January 1 and June 30, 2016, and an additional 2.2 million were seriously injured. Including hospital expenses, productivity losses, and other factors, the NSC says that those deaths and injuries cost the U.S. $205 billion.

The NSC's fatality stats for 2016 are up nine percent from the first half of 2015, when 17,530 people died in car crashes, and they're up a whopping 18 percent compared to the first six months of 2014, which saw 16,251 fatalities.

Grimmer still, based on these figures, the NSC predicts that 438 people will die over the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. 

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The NSC also notes that some states have seen the number of auto-related fatalities climb faster than others over the past two years. In Florida, for example, deaths have risen 43%. Other hard-hit states include Georgia (34%), Indiana (33%), California (31%), North Carolina (26%), Illinois (24%), and Kentucky (24%).

What's causing the rise?

Though the NSC does an admirable job of quickly compiling fatality statistics, explaining why the numbers rise and fall takes longer. Among the organization's three hypotheses:

1. The economy is growing stronger. A robust economy can have many effects on roadway stats, including a greater volume of big-rigs, delivery vans, and other cargo vehicles carrying goods intended for businesses and individual consumers.

2. Unemployment is shrinking. With more people in the workforce, there are necessarily more people commuting to and from offices. That, in turn, increases the risk of crashes, injuries, and deaths.

3. Gas prices are low. Average fuel prices during the first six months of 2016 were 16 percent cheaper than in 2015. That's encouraged motorists to slide behind the wheel more often, and as a result, the number of miles driven has risen by 3.3 percent.

Among the tips that the NSC gives to help bring the fatality rate back down, you'll find many suggestions that we frequently offer. For example:

  • Make sure every passenger buckles up on every trip
  • Designate an alcohol and drug-free driver or arrange alternate transportation
  • Get plenty of sleep and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue
  • Never use a cell phone behind the wheel, even hands-free
  • Stay engaged in teens' driving habits, as teens are three times as likely to crash as more experienced drivers

* NHSTA vs. NSC

It's worth noting that although NHTSA and NSC both track traffic fatalities, they do so in slightly different ways. 

NHTSA limits its focus to crashes that occur on public roads. It also restricts its definition of a "related fatality" to one that happens within 30 days of a collision. If someone dies in a hospital 31 days after a car crash, the death isn't included in NHTSA stats.

The NSC has a slightly broader view, and as a result, its fatality stats are typically higher (read: more alarming) than NHTSA's. Notably, the NSC looks at accidents that happen on private property, which ups the number of deaths it records. Also, the NSC considers deaths that occur within one year of a collision to be auto related. 

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