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Traffic Fatalities Decline in 2014; Early Estimates Predict Increase for Future

While there was a slight decline in traffic-related deaths in 2014, data gathered from traffic watchdog National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points to an increase in crash fatalities and a need to revive the fight against deadly driving behavior on America’s roads.

NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) figures for 2014 show that 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 0.1-percent decrease from the 2013. The fatality rate fell to a record-low of 1.07 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Estimates for the first six months of 2015 show a troubling increase in the number of fatalities: an 8.1-percent increase from the same time period last year. The fatality estimate for the first part of the year was up 8.1 percent, and the fatality rate rose 4.4 percent. While NHTSA experts admit that estimates are often subject to revision, the estimated increase represents a shift away from the downward trend.

“These numbers are a call to action,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “Everyone with a responsibility for road safety – the federal, State and local governments, law enforcement, vehicle manufacturers, safety advocates and road users – needs to reassess our efforts to combat threats to safety.”

The NHTSA launched a series of initiatives including attempts to speed technology innovations that can improve safety and the agency’s first comprehensive effort to fight drowsy, drunk, drugged and distracted driving, as well as speeding, failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats as well as new provisions that aimed at protecting vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Data for 2014 from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) show that while overall road deaths declined slightly, it was the safest year on record for passenger vehicle occupants: 21,022 Americans died in vehicles in 2014, the lowest number since FARS began collecting data in 1975. Cyclist deaths also declined, though the number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.1 percent from 2013.

According to NHTSA, some trends remained constant:

  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014.
  • Nearly half (49%) of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.
  • The number of motorcyclists killed was far higher in states without strong helmet laws, resulting in 1,565 lives lost in 2014.
  • Cyclist deaths declined by 2.3 percent, but pedestrian deaths rose by 3.1 percent from the previous year. In 2014, there were 726 cyclists and 4,884 pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities, killing 3,179 people in 2014.
  • Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6 percent of all crash fatalities; at least 846 people died in these crashes in 2014.

“Behavioral safety programs are the heart of NHTSA’s safety mission,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “While great public attention is focused on safety defects and recalls, and rightfully so, it is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction and other risks that kill thousands every year, and time for State and local governments to reassess whether they are making the right policy choices to improve highway safety.”

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