Traffic deaths up 14% in first 6 months 2015

Joan Lowy
Associated Press

Washington — U.S. traffic deaths are on pace to hit their highest since 2007, the National Safety Council said in a review of the first six months of the year.

The group said traffic deaths are 14 percent higher through the first six months of 2015 than they were during the same period in 2014. Serious injuries are 30 percent higher.

From January to June, 18,630 people died in traffic crashes across the U.S., and more than 2.2 million were seriously injured. The group also estimated the costs of traffic deaths, injuries and property damage is $152 billion — 24 percent higher than 2014.

The group said total road deaths were 18,630 in the first half of 2015, up 14 percent from the same period in 2014, or 16,400, and up 12 percent over the same period in 2013. The group said total deaths could top 40,000 in 2015 for the first time since 2007.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said Monday the number of deaths on U.S. roads is "unacceptable."

"The toll of deaths and injuries on our roads is unacceptable, which drives NHTSA to continue strengthening core safety programs, improving vehicle safety and speeding the development of life-saving technology innovations," Trowbridge said.

Part of the increase is due to the fact that U.S. drivers are on pace to drive a record number of miles in 2015. Drivers put 3.4 percent more miles on their odometers in the first five months of the year.

“Follow the numbers: the trend we are seeing on our roadways is like a flashing red light — danger lies ahead,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council and a former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The National Safety Council said “an improving economy with lower gas prices and unemployment rates herald increases in vehicle miles traveled. Average gas prices are 30 percent lower than they were in 2014 and are projected to remain relatively stable heading into 2016.” This generally means an increase in traffic; more people can afford to drive, and many travel longer distances and take vacations.

Last month, the Federal Highway Administration said Americans drove a record 1.26 trillion miles in the first five months of 2015, passing the previous record — 1.23 trillion — set in May 2007. The nation’s driving has steadily increased for 15 consecutive months.

In June, NHTSA said preliminary figures show U.S. road deaths fell 0.1 percent last year to 32,675.

But the U.S. auto safety agency said the preliminary figures show the fatality rate fell to 1.08 deaths per 100 million miles traveled in 2014, the lowest rate in U.S. history, in part because U.S. drivers logged 27 billion more miles last year.

The 2014 fatality rate is down from 1.09 deaths per 100 million miles in 2013, when 32,719 people died.

NHTSA said there were dramatic disparities in fatalities across the country.

In the Midwest — including Michigan, Ohio and Illinois — deaths fell 5 percent, but in the central-western states of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, deaths were up 9 percent last year.

State police said in April traffic deaths in Michigan fell 8 percent in 2014, even as overall crashes rose 3 percent and injuries rose slightly. It was the first time since 2011 state traffic deaths fell below 900 — and the lowest number of deaths in Michigan since 2009.

U.S. road deaths are down 25 percent since 2005, when 43,510 people died, even as the number of miles traveled and number of vehicles on the roads have risen dramatically.

NHTSA will release more detailed statistics on deaths and injuries later this year. Last year, NHTSA said the direct economic costs of U.S. traffic crashes rose 20 percent to $277 billion in 2010. The agency said economic costs are equal to $897 per person in tallying the costs of 33,000 crash deaths and 3.9 million injured in 2010.

NHTSA said total costs are $870.8 billion, including societal harm. This includes $277 billion in economic costs and at least $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.