Traffic safety professionals had been hopeful that the steady decrease in highway deaths since 2008 would continue. Those hopes were dashed with the August release of NHTSA ‘s report, 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview, revealing that 2015 marked the largest percentage increase in traffic fatalities in 50 years. That increase of 7.2% resulted in deaths climbing from 32,744 in 2014 to 35,092 in 2015. Preliminary estimates for 2016 suggest that this distressing trend will continue.
In the report, human choices were examined, including those caused by distracted, drunk and drowsy driving, speeding and those caused by failure to wear seat belts. Distracted driving deaths increased by the largest percentage from 2014-15 at about 8.2%, while the other fatalities caused by driver choice increased, but less than the across the board 7.2%, with drowsy driving the only type to decrease from 2014. An improving economy and lower gas prices accounted for a 3.3% increase in miles driven which was discussed in the report. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities increased to a level not seen in 20 years.
What do the 35,000 deaths represent? It represents 35,000 families suffering because of the death of a loved one. In all likelihood as a result of those 35,000 deaths hundreds of thousands are suffering. So we have a lot more work to do.
EndDD.org, working with the American Association for Justice (AAJ), will present distracted driving programs at schools across the country with the goal of speaking with more than 100,000 students during the 2016-17 school year. There are already more than 45 presentations scheduled for September and October in about 20 states with more being added weekly. Later this fall, my law firm Anapol Weiss, AAJ and EndDD will announce a nationwide video and meme contest to encourage students to speak up when they see friends and parents driving distracted.
Changing our culture so that distracted driving is viewed just as badly as drunk driving will require all of us, especially our young people, to work together.