Speed, distracted driving, drugs and alcohol continue to contribute to highway fatalities, with 2016 being one of the most deadly years for car crashes in nearly a decade.
Open any newspaper, log on to your local news web site or tune into the evening news and it’s obvious we have a problem:
- In Ohio, a retired firefighter was driving his Dodge Caravan when a Ford Fusion, driven by a 21-year-old man, crossed left of center and struck the van head on. Both men died in the crash, and state police believe drug use and texting by the driver of the Ford Fusion was the cause.
- In Wisconsin, a 25-year-old driver lost control of his vehicle, crossed left of center, drove through a ditch and went airborne, landing upside down on top of an SUV, killing one of the occupants and critically injuring the other occupant. The impact of the crash caused the SUV to hit two other vehicles. Law enforcement officers believe speed was a factor in the crash.
- Speed also appears to be a factor in a Utah crash that claimed the lives of three people and sent two others to the hospital – one with life-threatening injuries. A Honda sedan crossed left of center and hit a Kia head-on, according to reports from the Utah Highway Patrol. Both drivers were killed, as was a passenger in the Honda.
- A 49-year-old Californian driving a Volkswagen lost his life following a head-on crash with a Mitsubishi driven by a 28-year-old man that sent both drivers to the hospital. The California Highway Patrol is not sure which vehicle crossed left of center at this time, but and investigation determined the driver of the Mitsubishi was under the influence of drugs and he has been arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
- In Texas, eight people in the same Honda Pilot, including six children, were injured when the Pilot was rear-ended by another vehicle, causing it to hit a third vehicle and roll over. The vehicle that rear-ended the Pilot then drove off. Some of the children were not wearing seatbelts and two were ejected from the vehicle but are expected to survive. The Grand Prairie Police Department has not determined a cause for the crash and is searching for the other driver.
If it seems like you’re hearing about a lot of fatal vehicle crashes, it’s because you are. Preliminary 2016 data from the National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 6 percent increase over 2015 and a 14 percent increase over 2014. That is the most dramatic two-year increase in 53 years.
The preliminary estimate indicates 2016 was the deadliest year on the nation's roads since 2007. An estimated 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in 2016, and estimated cost to society was $432 billion.
An NSC survey released Feb. 15 provides a glimpse at the risky things drivers are doing that contributed to the higher number of fatalities and injuries. Although 83 percent of drivers surveyed believe driving is a safety concern, a startling number say they are comfortable speeding (64 percent), texting either manually or through voice controls (47 percent), driving while impaired by marijuana (13 percent) or driving after they feel they've had too much alcohol (10 percent).
Motor vehicle fatality estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as data mature. NSC uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the CDC, so that deaths occurring within 100 days of the crash and on both public and private roadways – such as parking lots and driveways – are included in the council’s estimates.
“Our complacency is killing us. Americans believe there is nothing we can do to stop crashes from happening, but that isn’t true,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities. We know what needs to be done; we just haven't done it.”
With the upward trend showing no sign of subsiding, NSC is calling for immediate implementation of these life-saving measures that would set the nation on a road to zero deaths:
- Mandate ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers and better education about the nature of impairment and when it begins.
- Install and use automated enforcement techniques to catch speeders.
- Extend laws banning all cell phone use – including hands-free – to all drivers, not just teens; upgrade enforcement from secondary to primary in states with existing bans.
- Upgrade seat belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement and extend restraint laws to every passenger in every seating position in all kinds of vehicles.
- Adopt a three-tiered licensing system for all new drivers under 21 – not just those under 18.
- Standardize and accelerate into the fleet automotive safety technologies with life-saving potential, including blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive headlights.
- Pass or reinstate motorcycle helmet laws.
- Adopt comprehensive programs for pedestrian safety.