If Cars Are Safer Why Are Traffic Deaths Skyrocketing?


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Cars are safer than they’ve ever been, and states are cracking down more than ever on dangerous driving activities like texting, but data from the National Safety Council shows that 2015 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for motor vehicle crashes in recent memory. From January to June of this year, the AP reports that 19,000 lives were lost on the road—that’s a 14% increase from last year. At this rate, 2015 might be the deadliest year since 2007. What’s more, Forbes reports that more than 2.2 million people were seriously injured in the first half of this year—a jaw-dropping 30% increase from last year.

The causes of the sharp increase in traffic deaths and injuries are not simple to determine, but safety experts across the country have been offering their perspectives, and heeding their warnings might help curb the loss of life.

More Time on the Road

The simplest explanation for this year’s high number of traffic fatalities is the increase in total miles driven. The AP reports that during the first five months of this year, Americans drove a combined total of 1.26 trillion miles—a number that surpassed the previous record of 1.23 trillion miles, which was set in May of 2007. In fact, the amount of miles Americans have driven has steadily increased since May of 2014. The AP spoke to Jonathan Adkins, executive director of Governors Highway Safety Association, who noted that our economy is stronger, unemployment is down, and gas prices are comparatively low. Adkins said, “we have expected an uptick in travel and, sadly, deaths.”

The simplest explanation for increasing traffic fatalities is the increase in total miles driven.

But, the AP spoke to the president of the National Safety Council, Deborah A.P. Hersman, who said that though this year has seen Americans drive record-breaking amounts, it’s only a 3.4 percent increase from last year and therefore can’t account for the entire 14% increase in traffic deaths.

More Hazards on the Road

Forbes explains that our more robust economy means more trucks are on the road, which, they explain, “means a greater frequency of commercial vehicle crashes, which generally have more severe consequences than those involving only passenger cars.”

Forbes also speculated that the move away from larger vehicles towards “more fuel-efficient sedans and crossovers over the last decade” might be why we are seeing more motor vehicle deaths. At Quoted, we’ve discussed the relative safety of SUVs and sedans. Our experts explained that when it comes to bigger obstacles—like Mack trucks—SUVs will fare better in a crash. If the bustling economy has led to more large, heavy obstacles (trucks) on our nation’s roads and fewer of us are driving big SUV-type cars, then therefore when a crash occurs, there is a higher likelihood of death or serious injury.

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More Roads in Disrepair

We’ve been hearing about America’s crumbling infrastructure for years, but the facts are still staggering: one in every four US bridges is either structurally deficient or obsolete. And while our nation’s bridge health has been improving, it’s still not great. Add to that the fact that the Department of Transportation has asked Congress to pass long-term funding to fix the nation’s roadways which the DOT says are in “dire need of repair,” and we can see where some of the traffic deaths are coming from. Driving on roads that are in bad shape takes more concentration and increases the likelihood that a driver will lose control or sustain damage to their car—all things that could lead to a crash.

As drivers we should heed safety advice to help curb the loss of life.

What Can We Do?

Work with what we have. We cannot lessen the number of big trucks and other hazards on the roads, our infrastructure isn’t going to be repaired overnight, and there will always be other dangerous drivers to contend with on the road. The experts might not have pinned down why traffic deaths have increased so much this year, but the fact remains: more people are dying and becoming seriously injured while driving. The best course of action for drivers is to increase their own safety behaviors:

At Quoted, we feel passionate about road safety, and the sheer number of traffic-related deaths this year is frightening. We encourage everyone to drive alert, engaged, unimpaired, and with respect for the damage multi-ton machines can do when hurling toward each other.

Stay safe.