Highway Deaths Soaring to New Heights

For the first time in nearly a decade, preliminary data from the National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. That marks a 6% increase over 2015 and a 14% increase over 2014 – the most dramatic two-year escalation in 53 years. ​

An estimated 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention, a 7% increase over 2015. This means 2016 may have been the deadliest year on the roads since 2007. Estimated cost to society was $432 billion.

A NSC survey released Feb. 15 provides a glimpse at the risky things drivers are doing. Although 83% of drivers surveyed believe driving is a safety concern, a startling number say they are comfortable speeding (64%), texting either manually or through voice controls (47%), driving while impaired by marijuana (13%) or driving after they feel they’ve had too much alcohol (10%).

Motor vehicle fatality estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as data mature. NSC uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the CDC, so deaths occurring within 100 days of the crash and on public and private roadways – such as parking lots and driveways – are included in the estimates.

“Our complacency is killing us. Americans believe there is nothing we can do to stop crashes from happening, but that isn’t true,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities. We know what needs to be done; we just haven’t done it.”

NSC is calling for immediate implementation of life-saving measures that would set the nation on a road to zero deaths:

  • Mandate ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers and better education about the nature of impairment and when it begins
  • Install and use automated enforcement techniques to catch speeders
  • Extend laws banning all cell phone use – including hands-free – to all drivers, not just teens; upgrade enforcement from secondary to primary in states with existing bans
  • Upgrade seat belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement and extend restraint laws to every passenger in every seating position in all kinds of vehicles
  • Adopt a three-tiered licensing system for all new drivers under 21 – not just those under 18
  • Standardize and accelerate into the fleet automotive safety technologies with life-saving potential, including blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive headlights
  • Pass or reinstate motorcycle helmet laws
  • Adopt comprehensive programs for pedestrian safety