The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released its highly anticipated 2016 crash report this week. The results are very discouraging.
More people died in traffic crashes last year than in any year in the past decade.
And what’s more, there were increases in every means of transit. Death rates increased for those driving cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles.
Overall traffic deaths increased by almost 2,000 people — an enormous 5.6 rate of increase from 2015. Since 2008, traffic fatalities had been on a downward trajectory but began to climb in 2012. We’ve now surpassed the 2008 numbers with no apparent end in sight.
I’ve been riding my bicycle long distances to stay in shape as I turn 63 next month (yikes!) and this picture of a “ghost bike” memorializing the death of a cyclist is especially disturbing to me.
What’s Driving the Change?
According to the NHTSA, human choice has played a part in this disappointing trend: speed and alcohol use have increased and seat belt use has dropped.
Alcohol already contributed to a large percentage of accident deaths. When DWI crash fatalities dropped to 28 percent of all accident deaths in 2015, we felt optimistic. Although 10,320 DWI deaths were still horrific, at least we were headed in the right direction. But drunk driving crash fatalities increased last year by 1.7 percent.
Another surprising change was a substantial increase of 4.6 percent in unrestrained people who died. Why are fewer people wearing seat belts?
Are There Really Fewer Distracted and Drowsy Drivers?
The NHTSA report claimed that auto accidents caused by two key types of human error decreased. Distracted driving accidents fell by 2.2 percent and drowsy driving accidents fell by 3.5 percent.
Are drivers really more alert than in past years and are people less tired now? Are drivers finally getting the message? I would like to think so. But I’m hardly convinced.
I have not seen a drop in texting and surfing while driving collisions in my office — just the the opposite. But Texas was one of the last holdouts in passing a watered down texting while driving laws. It is still legal to talk on the phone, dial numbers, and use the internet. But I’m hopeful that I will see a decline in the ever-present texting while driving crashes.
However I suspect that the distracted driving statistics reflect fewer admissions of distractions after a crash. With so much news about the dangers of distractions, drivers are more aware of their potential liability if found to be at fault.
In addition some drivers may not consider their actions a distraction, but rather the norms of driving a car. For example, those fancy dashboard infotainment systems have more sophisticated graphics, lights, sounds and functions. Stock quote? Sure.
Because my law firm specializes in auto, truck, 18-wheeler, motorcycle, and bicycle crash cases, we here at Berenson Injury Law help many traffic crash victims every week. From what I see, car wrecks in North Texas have reached an epidemic level. I saw one yesterday and one this morning. These should not be “business as usual.”
I remain an advocate for safer roads for residents throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, fight to help those injured by careless drivers, and hope to see traffic deaths decline again.