Gridlock Guy: Driving fatalities increase shows dangerous trend

According to newly released data by the National Safety Council we saw huge jump in motor vehicle deaths in the United States in 2015. Early estimates show an 8 percent increase in roadway deaths from 2014 to 2105 up to 38,300 last year. Georgia saw the second biggest jump in roadway deaths from 2014 to 2015, up a whopping 22 percent. Only Oregon (27 percent) saw a higher increase.

“We have seen an unfortunate increase in roadway fatalities in Georgia, as well as nationwide, during 2016,” said Natalie Dale of the Georgia Department of Transportation. “1,414 lives were lost in Georgia representing the first increase in fatalities we have seen in Georgia in almost a decade.”

“We haven’t seen a jump like this in 50 years,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “It’s a big change. This is not statistically insignificant. And we’re talking about human lives.”

The NSC points to many possible factors for the huge increase in fatalities including a stronger economy and lower unemployment. The sharp drop in gas prices might also be a factor. Driving is more affordable than it has been in years ensuring that Americans hit the road more often and for longer periods of time. In fact, motor-vehicle mileage increased by 3.5 percent between 2014 and 2105 in the United States.

While I don’t doubt that more people on the roads driving more miles had an impact of traffic deaths, I firmly believe that the proliferation of smart phones leading to more distracted drivers is likely the bigger cause.

“We don’t know with a lot of detail what the causality is,” Hersman said. “That information comes out later.”

Historically, the three biggest causes of traffic deaths are alcohol, speed and distracted driving.

“These fatalities do not represent one specific age group or type of roadway, rather this is an epidemic affecting all drivers,” Dale said. “One thing is certain though, this sharp increase in fatalities has been the result of a startling rise in distracted driving and driver’s not wearing their seat belt. We must work diligently to change this deadly trend of distracted driving on our roads.”

With more people on the roads, driving more miles, with more of those drivers being distracted, it is more important now than ever that we as drivers, keep 100 percent of our focus on the roads when driving. Two hands on the wheel, constantly scanning our surroundings, always aware of poor drivers around us. Becoming extremely engaged and defensive drivers is our best defense against this rise in traffic deaths.

“These numbers are serving notice, Americans take their safety on the roadways for granted,” Hersman said. “Driving a car is one of the riskiest activities any of us undertake, in spite of decades of vehicle design improvements and traffic safety advancements.”

Hersman echoes my feelings about defensive driving.

“Engage your defensive driving skills and stay alert so we can reverse this trend in 2016,” Hersman said.