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The National Safety Council has announced its estimate for total fatal auto accidents in 2016, and the news isn’t good. But advocates disagree on what is causing the increase.
In 2016, the National Safety Council estimates 40,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents. It’s the first time since 2007 that the national number has topped 40,000. The latest estimates, released on February 15, 2017, show a 6% increase in fatal car crashes in 2016. This comes on top of a 7% rise in 2015. That makes the 2-year increase the largest in over 50 years.
Researchers are pointing to the improved economy to explain part of the increase. When Americans earn more, they drive more, as commuters and for pleasure. But that’s not the whole story. Advocates say that the number of deaths as a percentage of miles driven is also on the rise. And while total car crashes were up a mere 5%, fatalities were up 25%.
Everyone seems to agree that the increase is a problem. Deborah Hersman, the National Safety Counsel president and chief executive says:
“Why are we O.K. with this? . . . Complacency is killing us.”
But while some point to technology and distracted driving, others are falling back on older sources of the problem. Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, says:
“It’s still the same things that are killing drivers — belts, booze and speed.”
Government officials point to lenient enforcement of seatbelt, drunk driving, and speed laws. About 50% of all fatal auto accidents involve unbelted drivers. One third involve drugs or alcohol.
David Brown, a research associate at the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, says:
“I think speeding is the No. 1 problem. There are times of the day when we only have one or two troopers on duty in a county, so you can speed, and there’s no one there to deter it.”
He found an increase in fatalities involving high-speed crashes.
The data also clearly shows an increase in distracted driving. Adkins says:
“It’s not just talking on the phone that’s a problem today. . . . You now have all these other apps that people can use on their phones.”
The rise happens while car companies and cellphone manufacturers are improving the hands-free technology. But notifications from social media still put drivers at risk.
That’s why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called on cell phone manufacturers to implement “Drive Mode” which will minimize distractions by disabling certain apps and features when the phones detect the user is driving.
There is no one solution to fatal auto accidents, but as long as fatalities are on the rise, it is clear that more must be done to protect drivers in Michigan and across the United States.