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Why Are Auto Fatalities on the Rise?

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Over the last decade, auto crash fatalities nationwide had been declining to record-low numbers.  From 2009 to 2014, traffic deaths hovered around 32,000 to 33,000 per year, significantly below the 51,000 deaths per year in 1979 and 1980.  But over the last two to three years, fatal crashes have been on the upswing again.  In Michigan, over 1000 people were killed in 2016, the most since 2007.  And the trend is not limited to Michigan – states across the country are seeing fatalities spiking to new levels.

Why the increase?  Advances in car safety technology are no longer limited to luxury models, with features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure alerts, and automated braking becoming standard on many affordable vehicles.  Roads and highways are being engineered and built to be safer than ever.  Unfortunately, the increase in fatal accidents seems to be linked to driver behavior.

Distracted driving has become a serious menace to road safety.  Ubiquitous communication technology – texting and smartphone use – is probably the number one culprit and rightfully receives a lot of media attention.  Phone use is particularly dangerous because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction, while eating a hamburger might involve only manual distraction (taking one or both hands off the steering wheel).

It’s true that other factors are probably involved.  The rebounding economy has led to more road miles being traveled and therefore a greater likelihood of crashes.  The fact that many motorists are holding on to older vehicles (which often lack advanced safety features) longer than before may also be contributing to the problem.  It’s also possible that the repeal of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws has something to do with the increase.  But the fact remains that the root cause of crashes appears to be risky driver behavior, particularly distracted driving.