The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released its latest estimate of traffic deaths. The 2016 announcement was sobering. It showed a 9.3% increase in traffic fatalities in the first nine months of 2015 compared to 2014 figures. The most significant increases came for pedestrians and bicyclists. 
According to this NHTSA report, an estimated 26,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions during the first nine months of 2015, a large increase when compared to 23,796 deaths in the first nine months of 2014. The regions that saw the biggest jumps in traffic deaths were the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana), with a 20% increase, and the Southeast (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), with a 16% increase. The region that includes Virginia showed a 12% increase. The smallest increase was 2% in the region covering New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Traffic fatality rates in the U.S. have generally showed a gradual decline over the past few years. So, why are we seeing what could be the largest year-to-year spike in traffic deaths since 1946? Many believe that increases in car sales along with a decrease in gas prices are major factors. The NHTSA reports that Americans are driving more, with preliminary data showing that vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2015 increased by 80.2 billion miles…a 3.5% increase.
Regional summits hosted by the NHTSA are scheduled across the country in an effort to examine unsafe behaviors and driver choices that contribute to increasing traffic deaths. These summits will address drunk/drugged/distracted/drowsy driving, speeding, failure to use safety features such as seatbelts and child seats and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind said, “We’re seeing red flags across the U. S. and we’re not waiting for the situation to develop further.” 
NHTSA continues to gather and finalize data on crash fatalities for 2014 and 2015. Sadly, the increase in fatalities highlights the importance of ongoing efforts to educate the public about topics related to driver safety.
About the Author: David M. Williams Jr. is a partner and personal injury attorney in Stafford with Allen & Allen. He has many years of experience in a variety of personal injury related matters including car accidents, premises liability and wrongful death.