Our top priority is safety and we are continually working to identify problems that can hinder making our roads as safe as possible. We follow road safety data carefully in order to monitor what is happening, and we will surely need to examine the government’s final 2015 data to determine where our combined priorities need to lie. While 87% of Americans now buckle up, about half of all vehicle occupants recorded as fatalities in 2015 were not wearing safety belts. And, while reviewing several databases, we have been observing an increase in fatalities of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.
The 2015 total fatalities of 35,092 hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since 2008, when there were 37,423 total fatalities, according to FARS (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx). Since 2008, the number of pedestrian fatalities, as well as bicycling fatalities, has increased by about 20%.
In Wisconsin, for example, motor vehicle fatalities rose 13% in 2015, but significant increases in fatalities occurred outside a car, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The Wisconsin DOT reported that pedestrian fatalities increased 22% in 2015 and motorcycle deaths jumped 18% over figures recorded in 2014. “Warm spring weather, substantial drops in gas prices and an improving economy in 2015 likely contributed to an increase in the number of vehicles on the road and the miles they traveled,” David Pabst, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Safety. “An increase in vehicle miles traveled can also increase the risks for crashes,” Pabst said. (Jesse Garza, “Wisconsin traffic deaths up 13% in 2015,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, archive.jsonline.com, 1/10/16)
In Colorado, 545 people died in traffic accidents in 2015, an 11.7% increase from the 488 traffic deaths recorded in 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Officials cited the economy as a major factor in the increase. Job growth added more workers on the road and lower fuel prices meant additional commuters drove to work. Colorado officials also noted that nearly half of all victims in passenger vehicle fatalities were not restrained. “The idea that there are still huge numbers of people dying that are not wearing seat belts is unacceptable,” Colorado Department of Transportation Shailen Bhatt said. According to the Denver Post, another “notable increase” in Colorado was a nearly 11% rise in motorcycle fatalities from 2015 to 2014. (Elizabeth Hernandez, “Colorado sees deadliest year of traffic fatalities since 2008,” The Denver Post, www.denverpost.com, 1/19/16)
Safety is a shared responsibility, and we all need to work together to identify where we can save the most lives. NHTSA reports that 94% of crashes involve human error. By contrast, vehicle defects accounted for less than 1% of the overall fatality rate in 2014. That’s why advanced safety technology that assists drivers, as well as the coming connected and autonomous vehicles, is so promising as we look to the future. And we still need to continue education about wearing safety belts and stopping impaired driving.