WASHINGTON, D.C. — A five-year trend of declining traffic fatalities ended last year with a 7.2 percent increase in deaths, federal officials said Monday.
More than 35,000 people died in traffic incidents in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The last time roads saw a year-to-year increase this large was half a century ago.
“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we’re issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”
The annual rate of traffic used to be much worse – just ten years ago the number of traffic deaths was nearly 25 percent higher, according to traffic data. But since then, safety programs and vehicle technology improvements have cut down on fatalities.
Officials attributed the rise in fatalities to an increase of drivers on the road caused by job growth and low fuel prices. The Traffic Safety Administration found that almost half of all passengers killed were not wearing seat belts and that 30 percent of fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding.
“The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”
The sharp increase in annual fatalities has pushed officials with The Transportation Department to issue a call to action, asking people to submit suggestions on how to keep drivers safe.
“DOT is aggressively seeking ways to improve safety on the roads,” Rosekind and DJ Patil, a White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy, said in a statement. “From our work with the auto industry to improve vehicle safety, to new solutions to behavioral challenges like drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving, we know we need to find novel solutions to old challenges.”