Traffic deaths increased by nearly 8% in 2015

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The number of drivers who were killed in U.S. traffic accidents increased by 7.7 percent last year, according to statistics released Friday by the federal government.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 35,200 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2015, which is up from the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. The figures include auto, motorcycle and bicycle accidents, as well as pedestrians.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he is alarmed by the news of the increase in traffic deaths, which comes as millions are expected to hit the road this weekend for the July Fourth holiday.

“Every American should be able to drive, ride or walk to their destination safely, every time,” Foxx said in a statement. “We are analyzing the data to determine what factors contributed to the increase in fatalities and at the same time, we are aggressively testing new safety technologies, new ways to improve driver behavior, and new ways to analyze the data we have, as we work with the entire road safety community to take this challenge head-on.”

The transportation department said nine out of 10 regions had fatal accident increases. Region 5, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, had a 9 percent increase in traffic accidents in 2015.

The Michigan State Police said the number of traffic deaths in Michigan jumped 10 percent last year, going up from 876 in 2014 to 963 in 2015. The agency’s Criminal Justice Information Center said the number of a alcohol-involved, bicyclist, teen and motorcyclist traffic deaths all increased by more than 20 percent last year.

Michael Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, said “there are a lot of socioeconomic and environmental variables that can affect these numbers, including the economy, gas prices, changes in travel habits, weather, as well as driver behavior.”

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind attributed the increase in the number of traffic fatalities nationally partly to a spike in the number of miles that have been driven by U.S. residents that has been reported this year.

“As the economy has improved and gas prices have fallen, more Americans are driving more miles,” he said. “But that only explains part of the increase. Ninety-four percent of crashes can be tied back to a human choice or error, so we know we need to focus our efforts on improving human behavior while promoting vehicle technology that not only protects people in crashes, but helps prevent crashes in the first place.”

Foxx said drivers should be especially careful as they head out on the nation’s highways for the upcoming holiday weekend.

“The July 4 holiday is historically one of the deadliest days on U.S. roadways, so this weekend Americans should take extra care to ensure they get to their destinations safely,” he said. “Every driver should make sure all of their passengers are buckled up every time, and no driver should get behind the wheel when they’ve been drinking.”

The AAA auto club has predicted that 36 million people out of an estimated total of 43 million July Fourth travelers will drive to their destinations for the holiday weekend. The estimated number of drivers is a 1.2 percent over the auto club’s figures for July Fourth travel in 2015.

The transportation department said it is “working to develop new tools that could improve behavioral challenges including drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving; speeding; failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats; and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.”

The agency noted that the traffic data is “preliminary and requires additional analysis,” however.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing