Highway deaths increased last year at the fastest rate seen in almost 50 years. More than 35,000 Americans died in 2015, up by 7.2 percent from the previous year. Additionally, preliminary numbers from the first six months of this year indicate that the increase is continuing, and the nation could experience this year the highest number of traffic deaths seen in a decade. In West Virginia, by the end of August 157 people had died on the roads. In 2015, a total of 270 had died. It is unclear if West Virginia will buck the national fatality trend.
The causes of these fatal crashes are varied. It is assumed that some of the increase is because Americans drove more last year, helped by inexpensive gas prices. With the economy still showing signs of improvement, more jobs mean more people have to drive to get to work and they then have more income to spend for activities like vacations and other travel.
More Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) creates more exposure for motorists to the behavior of other drivers, which includes negligent behavior, like driving drunk, texting, other distractions and speeding. The Department of Transportation Secretary stated this increase in fatalities should be a call to action for everyone from ordinary motorists to safety engineers and researchers to work towards a solution to prevent these tragic crashes.
Some ideas are simple, like ensuring everyone in your vehicle using their seat belts, as half of the fatal crashes involve occupants who are unbelted.
Other problems are more difficult, like altering distracting behavior such as texting or other cellphone use. Most drivers will admit they know they should not text, yet many of the very same drivers will admit they have texted recently. Changing this behavior may require stricter laws and more rigorous enforcement.