By Amanda Essex and Kristen Hildreth
The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released preliminary estimates this week showing a 10.4 percent increase in traffic-related fatalities in the first half of 2016 when compared to 2015.
If this increase continues throughout 2016, it would mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008.
While data show that the number of traffic deaths are down from a decade ago, NHTSA’s estimates indicate that the second quarter of 2016 (April-June) represents the seventh consecutive quarter with an increase in fatalities as compared to the corresponding quarters in previous years, creating cause for concern, and marking a trend in reversal of progress made toward road safety and fatality reduction.
Despite the increase in fatalities, NHTSA has said it is “too soon to attribute contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways.”
One statistic frequently cited to explain the increase in fatalities, however, is the 3.3 percent increase in vehicles miles traveled (VMT) in the first six months of 2016, which is a reflection of lower gas prices, lower unemployment rates, and a stronger economy.
Additionally, according to the National Safety Council, driver distraction, speed and impaired driving still remain significant factors in traffic crashes.
In response to rising traffic-related fatalities, NHTSA announced that it was entering into the Road to Zero coalition, with the aim of ending traffic fatalities on the nation’s roads within the next 30 years.
The Road to Zero coalition was developed following six roadway safety summits convened across the country. It is led by three agencies within the Department of Transportation: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, along with the National Safety Council. The coalition will initially focus on encouraging “proven lifesaving strategies,” such as seat belt usage, rumble strips, truck safety, behavior change efforts and data-driven enforcement. Additionally, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also committed $3 million over the next three years to provide grants to organizations working to reduce traffic-related fatalities.
NCSL traffic safety experts Anne Teigen and Amanda Essex were present at the unveiling of this coalition to represent state legislative interests and learn more about the new federal effort.
To find out what state legislatures have been doing to reduce traffic fatalities, take a look at NCSL’s report, “Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2015,” examining enacted 2015 legislation on traffic safety topics ranging from impaired driving to automated enforcement to school bus safety, amongst many other topics. Additionally, NCSL also tracks state legislation pertaining to distracted driving, impaired driving and many other issues related to traffic safety.
Amanda Essex is a policy associate in NCSL's Transportation program. Kristen Hildreth is a policy associate in NCSL's State-Federal Relations program.