Traffic Deaths On The Rise -- What's Really To Blame?

By Bill Visnic

The National Safety Council reported this week that traffic deaths and serious injuries in the U.S. are on a pace to rise for the first time in nearly a decade. If the trend for the first six months of this year continues, the NSC says traffic fatalities in the nation will exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007 and deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also will increase.

This despite evermore crashworthy cars and high-tech electronic safety features.

The “speed kills” coalition will blame the trend reversal on many states’ recent moves to higher highway speed limits, but the real culprits, suggests NSC president Deborah Hershman to the Associated Press, are low fuel prices and – get ready for it – cellphone mania.

Photo: AP

To be sure, Hershman says, Americans are on the road more than ever; miles driven in the U.S. increased for 15 consecutive months through May and set an all-time record for travel in the first five months of the year at 1.26 trillion miles, a record that stood since 2007. But, the 3.4% increase in miles traveled doesn’t square with the 14% jump in fatalities for the first half of this year.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a prominent page on its website that says “states continue to raise speed limits despite clear evidence that doing so leads to more deaths” – an assertion that considerable data and many experts have suggested is specious. Instead, cellphone use likely has a more direct link to the new rise in traffic fatalities and injuries. An NSC study earlier this year indicated cellphone use is a factor in one quarter of all accidents.

Rural interstate speed limits by state. (Courtesy Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

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