Our vehicles are getting safer, yet deaths on our roadways are epidemic. The number of vehicle occupants killed in traffic accidents dipped to 21,022 in 2014, according to the federal agency that tracks the numbers. It’s the lowest total since record-keeping began in 1975. In other respects, American roads remain precarious places for certain users, and the dangers are growing for everyone.
Although the number of overall traffic fatalities inched downward 0.1 percent in 2014, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials said Tuesday early estimates show a dramatic rise in deaths over the first half in 2015. In the first six months of the year, their projections show an 8.1-percent jump in deaths year over year. Part of the reason is because Americans, fueled by cheap gas prices and a good economy, are driving more miles. But that’s not the only reason. The deaths are rising at twice the rate as miles driven, and the spike has left highway safety officials scratching their heads. Should that figure hold, it would represent the single greatest year-over-year increase in the percentage of traffic deaths since 1946.
“These numbers are a wake-up call,” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said Tuesday. “The essentially flat number in 2014 is unsatisfactory. A potential increase for 2015 is unacceptable. It really is time for our nation to get serious about the epidemic of death on our roadways.”
Nowhere is that epidemic more acute than among the most vulnerable of road users – cyclists and pedestrians. With the number of vehicle occupant deaths falling to new lows, pedestrians and cyclists represent a bigger chunk of the 32,675 overall deaths recorded in 2014. Pedestrian deaths in particular jumped 3.1 percent between 2013 and 2014 to 4,884 people, and those on foot now account for 14.9 percent of all traffic deaths.