U.S. highway fatalities rose by 7.2 % in 2015, bringing the total number of deaths to more than 35,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The rise in fatalities was the highest percentage increase since 1966, when fatalities rose by 8.1%, the NHTSA’s data shows.
NHTSA attributed the increase to increased driving because of job growth, cheaper gasoline prices and more driving by young people. The agency said that while more driving was a major cause, other factors should be considered.
Nearly 50% of those killed were not wearing their seat belts. Drunken driving, speeding and distraction from mobile devices also contributed to the increase with almost one in three fatalities involving drunk drivers or speeding, and one in 10 fatalities involving distraction, reports revealed.
“The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, drowsy or if they are speeding or unbuckled,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”
According to the NHTSA, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists who died in roadway accidents increased in 2015 more than any other year since 1995. Accidents that took the lives of motorcyclists rose by 8% in 2015. The report also showed vehicle miles traveled in 2015 was 3.5% higher than in 2014, which was the highest one-year increase in 25 years.
In response to the increase in traffic deaths, the NHTSA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House are issuing a call to action to involve researchers, safety experts and data scientists in helping to determine the causes of the increase.
“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we’re issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”