Sept. 18, 2010, file photo, traffic is backed up on the New
York State Thruway in Harriman, N.Y., due to a fatal crash
on the northbound side of Interstate 87 in Woodbury.
Government estimates show U.S. traffic deaths rose 8 percent
for the first six months of 2015, following a slight
decrease in 2014, according to a report released Tuesday,
Nov. 24, 2015, by the National Highway Traffic Safety
DETROIT — After declining for
most of the past decade, traffic deaths spiked 8 percent in the
first half of this year, prompting a call from the nation's
highway safety chief to find ways to reduce the human errors that
cause most fatalities.
The new estimate released Tuesday
by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration comes just
as millions of Americans prepare to hit the road for the
Thanksgiving holiday. AAA predicts that 42 million people will
drive 50 miles or more over the coming weekend.
Officials released a final number
of fatal crashes for 2014, which showed a decline of 0.1 percent.
This year, lower gas prices and an improving economy are prompting
people to travel more. Americans drove 1.54 trillion miles in the
first half of 2015, up 3.5 percent from the same period in 2014,
according to the Federal Highway Administration.
But NHTSA Administrator Mark
Rosekind said that not all of the increase could be attributed to
people driving more miles. He suspects that texting and other
distractions while using smartphones was part of the cause, as
well as drunken, drugged and drowsy driving, and increased driving
by teenagers. NHTSA, he said, doesn't have clear enough data yet
to pinpoint exact causes.
"These numbers are a wake-up
call," Rosekind said of the increase. He urged people to stop
using their phones while driving, not to drink alcohol or use
drugs and get behind the wheel, and to wear seat belts and
NHTSA said its research shows that
human decisions cause 94 percent of all crashes. The agency plans
to hold five meetings around the country early next year to get
input on how to cut traffic deaths, followed by a larger meeting
in Washington that would yield recommendations to address human
"It is important for Americans
to know that human behaviors are by far the largest cause of
fatalities," Rosekind said.
Rosekind said 2014 statistics show
that distracted driving caused about 10 percent of the 32,675
traffic deaths that year. But he said that since driver
distraction is difficult to track, "that our numbers
underestimated exactly what's going on out there."
The slight drop in 2014 traffic
deaths came after a decade that saw a 25 percent decline due to
fewer miles driven, safer cars and public awareness of the dangers
of drunken driving.
For 2014, the rate of fatalities
fell to a record low of 1.07 deaths per million vehicle miles
traveled. But Rosekind said 2015 estimates showed the death rate
rising over 4 percent, which he called "troubling."
NHTSA's numbers showed that 2014
was the safest year on record for people inside vehicles, with
21,022 deaths reported. Nearly half of those killed were not
wearing seat belts, even though belt use rose to 87 percent,
Bicyclist deaths declined 2.3
percent last year, but pedestrian fatalities rose 3.1 percent over
2013. Both appear to be rising slightly this year, Rosekind said.
Drunken driving continued to cause
about one-third of all traffic deaths in 2014, with 9,967 people
The safety agency will hold
meetings in February and March in Sacramento, California; Boston;
Denver; Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth to get input. After that,
safety experts will meet in Washington, D.C., to come up with an
action plan, Rosekind said.
The plan will focus on human errors
or choices that cause crashes, Rosekind said, adding that there is
excitement over new technologies that can prevent some of those