The country saw a 7.2 percent increase in traffic fatalities after a decade-long downward trend of fatality rates — last year’s increase reduced the trend by nearly a third.
In response to the national data, the White House, the Department of Transportation and the NHTSA issued a call to action to reduce the fatality rates.
“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in an NHTSA press release.
According to the report, vehicle miles traveled increased by 3.5 percent from 2014 to 2015, the largest increase in 23 years. David Harkey, director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, said this can be attributed to the end of the recession.
“The causes, both nationally and in the state of North Carolina, are very similar — that is that we’ve seen an improving economy with less unemployment, low gas prices, and both of those things contribute to an increase in the amount of travel on the highway,” Harkey said.
Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities increased by 3.2 percent nationally and by 13.2 percent in North Carolina, making up 30 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities.
“The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in the press release.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation released its Strategic Highway Safety Plan in 2015 in conjunction with various other groups, which outlined emphasis areas including impaired driving, speed and keeping drivers alert. Harkey said statewide campaigns like Booze it and Lose it have had a measurable impact, but more needs to be done.
“There’s no magic solution with some of these things,” Harkey said. “I think a lot of what we try to do when it comes to changing behaviors, some of it’s trial and error to think of what might work and what will work best.”
But Harkey said to take the year-over-year increase with a grain of salt.
“You’ve got to remember that thankfully, the number of fatalities we experience in the state and in the nation is a relatively small number when you think of things statistically,” he said.
Traffic fatalities in the state prior to 2007 were frequently over 1,500, Harkey said. But according to the report, there were 1,284 in 2014 and 1,379 in 2015.
“The fact that we’re now approaching 1,400 again with record amount of travel points to the fact that we’re still trending in the right direction,” he said.