Traffic fatalities dropped in 2014, but trending higher for 2015, NHTSA reports

Mortality rate up more than 8 percent from the same period last year

Posted November 30, 2015

The nation saw a slight decline in traffic deaths during 2014. However, an increase in estimated fatalities during the first six months of this year reveals a need to reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America's roads, the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on November 24.

NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) figures for 2014 show 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 0.1-percent decrease from the previous year. The fatality rate fell to a record-low of 1.07 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. But estimates for the first six months of 2015 show a troubling increase in the number of fatalities.

The 2015 fatality estimate is up 8.1 percent from the same period last year and the fatality rate rose by 4.4 percent. NHTSA experts cautioned that while partial-year estimates are more volatile and subject to revision, the estimated increase represents a troubling departure from a general downward trend

Data for 2014 from NHTSA's FARS show that while overall road deaths declined only 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. While cyclist deaths also declined by 2.3 percent, the number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.1 percent from 2013. In 2014, there were 726 cyclists and 4,884 pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes.

Other trends remained stubbornly constant:

  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014;
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts; and
  • Deaths of motorcyclists without helmets remained far higher in states without strong helmet laws, resulting in 1,565 lives lost in 2014.

Additional 2014 crash data show:

  • 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.

While final 2015 numbers and a breakdown of factors in the year's fatalities will not be available until next year, NHTSA experts noted that job growth and low fuel prices could be a factor, not only in increased driving overall, but in increased leisure driving and driving by young people, which can contribute to higher fatality rates.

The agency also announced on November 24 that it will hold a series of cross-cutting regional meetings across the country early next year, capped by a nationwide gathering in Washington, to gather ideas, engage new partners, and generate additional approaches to combat human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths. These meetings will address drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving; speeding; failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats; and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.


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