The number of traffic deaths in the U.S. jumped by 9.3% during the first nine months of 2015, a surprising rise after years of steady decline, according to recent numbers collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Motor vehicle fatalities rose to an estimated 26,000, up from 23,796 the previous year and equaling a fatality rate of 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That’s the highest rate since 2012; between 2000-2014, traffic deaths declined by 22%.
The NHTSA announced yesterday that the first nine months of last year was one of the deadliest in recent memory, prompting the U.S. Transportation Department to look at new ways to prevent traffic-related crashes—94% of which are due to human factors.
NHTSA President Mark Rosekind, who took over the federal division in 2014, has made it a priority during his tenure to reduce the number of the traffic-related crashes nationwide., going as far as to say that crashes have the potential to be eliminated altogether with the advent of self-driving cars.
One theory as to why the numbers have risen so dramatically over the last year is the impact of an improving economy and low gas prices. Given the alarming number in 2015, the NHTSA plans to organize safety summits in the coming months. Ride-sharing businesses like Uber and Lyft have also stepped up their efforts to improve road safety as more people decide to get behind the wheel. (Both companies have encountered safety issues in recent months and we’ll be tracking and analyzing their progress.)
Among the talking points at these summits, Rosekind has said, is discussing and analyzing ways to improve behavioral traits in drivers and addressing all-too common issues like drunk driving and those who refrain from wearing seat belts. The NHTSA kicked off a summit recently in Sacramento, California and plans to host additional summits around the country, including Washington, D.C.