U.S. traffic deaths are up 14 percent for the first six months of 2015, with serious injuries posting a 30 percent increase, the National Safety Council says.
At least three states are reporting midyear spikes in fatalities, and all of them are being linked to distracted driving.
The numbers have “the country on pace for its deadliest driving year since 2007,” the NSC warns.
“Follow the numbers: the trend we are seeing on our roadways is like a flashing red light — danger lies ahead,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Be a defensive driver and make safe decisions behind the wheel. Your life really depends on it.”
The safety organization urged drivers not to use cell phones — hand held or hands free — but did not point to distracted driving specifically as a cause. Hersman said the issue was “complicated.”
“For many years people have said, ‘If distraction is such a big issue, why don’t we see an increase in fatal crash numbers?’ Well, we’re seeing increasing fatal crashes numbers, but I think it’s complicated to tease out what that is due to,” Hersman, right, told the Associated Press.
“An improving economy with lower gas prices and unemployment rates herald increases in vehicle miles traveled,” the NSC said in a press release.
The hike in vehicle mileage is estimated at about 3.4 percent, significantly less than the 14 percent hike in deaths.
NSC leader Hersman previously was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, where she called in 2011 for a complete ban on cell phone use while driving — regardless of whether a hands-free device was employed. She was not backed by her boss, the former Transportation secretary, but has continued to advocate for cell phone bans at the NSC.
The organization estimates 1 in 4 crashes are linked to cell phone use.
The state of Georgia also is seeing an increase in 2015 traffic fatalities, and puts most of the blame on distracted driving. The increase, through August, is 87 deaths compared with 2014. “We’re seeing a lot of distraction,” a state DOT official said.
In Illinois, the increase is 50 deaths compared with 2014. A local safety analyst said distracted driving was likely one factor, along with the number of SUVs on the road and the increased number of drivers on the road.
And in Wisconsin, officials say 255 people died in the first half of 2015, an increase of almost 23 percent from 2014. The safety chief for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the “biggest problem” was driver inattention.