As the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) statistics for 2015 roll in, the year, as predicted, is counter-trending ‘not to the good’. Press release details say: “[In] 2014 … 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes, 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. Estimates for the first half of 2015 show a 8.1 percent increase in traffic deaths from the same period last year. The fatality rate per vehicle mile reportedly is up 4.4 percent. Not surprisingly, the news release in this regard cautions that while “partial-year estimates are more volatile and subject to revision”, this “represents a troubling departure from a general downward trend.”
The call is out to “the federal, state and local governments, law enforcement, vehicle manufacturers, safety advocates and road users” to “reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America's roads” which includes, of course, more effort to find out what is going on.
Final 2015 numbers and the identification of factors in the year's fatalities will not be available until next year. In the meantime, the 2014 ‘picture’ shows “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.” Cyclist deaths also declined. The number of pedestrians killed, however, rose by 3.1 percent from 2013.
With respect to these overall 2014 results, the standard causal factors remained constant — drunk driving crashes caused roughly one-third of the fatalities; half of all vehicle occupants who died were not wearing seat belts; more (helmet-less) motorcyclists died in states without helmet laws; speeding was a factor in more than one in four deaths; distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities; drowsy driving for 2.6 percent; and human factors vastly outweighed vehicle-related factors as ‘the critical cause’ of crashes in 94 percent and two percent respectively.
Early attempts to explain 2015 suggest US job growth combined with low fuel prices means more people driving overall, which has tended to contribute to higher fatality rates. Cell phone technology and interconnectivity is a main focus of concern. The US National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that one in four crashes involve cell phone use.
NSC CEO Deborah Hersman has been quoted as saying, “While the public understands the risks associated with distracted driving, the data shows the behavior continues – we need better education, laws and enforcement to make our roads safer for everyone.” She also points out that while automakers have developed heads-up displays that enable drivers to check information without taking their eyes from the road … “if it puts up an iPod playlist or sends a restaurant reservation that may distract from the task of driving.”
As voice command becomes the norm for control of communication devices we may expect to see a change in the distracted driving issue.