A steep 9% increase in US traffic fatalities image

According to the latest NHTSA report, US highway fatalities rate rose by 9% in the first 9 months of 2015, an unexpected increase after decades of gradual decline.

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced at the end of last week its latest estimate of traffic deaths, which show a steep 9.3 percent increase for the first nine months of 2015. NHTSA estimates that more than 26,000 people (drivers, passengers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians) died in traffic crashes in the first nine months of 2015, compared to the 23,796 fatalities in the first nine months of 2014. Some US regions nationwide showed increases ranging from 2 to 20 percent.

This worrying escalation might be related to the fact that American drivers tend to spend more time on the road due to an increasing economy and ever lower fuel prices. Moreover, the situation could also be linked to the record number of auto recalls for serious safety problems, such as the General Motors ignition switch scandal and the never-ending recall of vehicles using faulty Takata airbags.

The US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx declared that “For decades, US DOT has been driving safety improvements on our roads, and those efforts have resulted in a steady decline in highway deaths. But the apparent increase in 2015 is a signal that we need to do more.” Dr. Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Administrator also stated: “We’re seeing red flags across the U.S. and we’re not waiting for the situation to develop further. It’s time to drive behavioral changes in traffic safety and that means taking on new initiatives and addressing persistent issues like drunk driving and failure to wear seat belts.”

The report comes as a shock, as this increase in highway fatalities follows years of steady, gradual declines. Traffic deaths declined 1.2 percent in 2014 and more than 22 percent from 2000 to 2014.