For years, motor vehicle crash fatalities had been declining nationally—thanks in part to public safety awareness campaigns, tougher state traffic laws, improved vehicle safety, and highway improvements. Unfortunately, in recent years, that positive trend has reversed itself, with traffic crash fatalities increasing significantly in 2012 and now again for the first half of 2015.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that from January through June 2015, an estimated 16,225 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes across the U.S. This is an 8.1 percent increase in numbers of deaths as compared to the 15,014 crash fatalities that occurred in the first half of 2014. The reasons behind the increase in loss of lives?
Dropping gas prices means more motorists driving billions more miles on our nation’s roadways—an increase in volume which can contribute to an increase in traffic accident deaths. And it may come as no surprise to Maryland motorists that texting while driving has become as dangerous as drunk driving. This deadly form of distracted driving has been particularly difficult to curb, even with states like Maryland making texting while driving illegal. Talking on handheld devices is also a primary offense in Maryland (but we still see people doing it).
While driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol continues to be a serious public health issue in Maryland and elsewhere, national data shows some progress in that area. But as soon as cell phones—particularly smartphones with texting—became ubiquitous, traffic accident fatalities began to rise again. According to NHTSA data, which goes back to the 1970s…
“The declines during the early 1980s and 1990s lasted 11 consecutive quarters, while the most recent decline occurred over 17 consecutive quarters ending in the second quarter of 2010.”
Preliminary crash data for 2015 is a cause for concern for lawmakers, traffic safety advocates, and motorists everywhere. NHTSA Region 3, which includes Maryland along with Delaware, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina, saw traffic deaths rise by 13 percent in the first half of 2015. Region 9 (California, Arizona, and Hawaii) fared the best with a zero percent increase in deaths, while Region 4 (Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida) did the worst with a 15 percent increase in fatalities. No region saw a reduction in traffic crash fatalities.
Traffic crash statistics paint a mixed picture for Maryland. In 2014, Maryland experienced its lowest number of traffic accident fatalities since 1948, with 442 people killed in motor vehicle crashes (roughly 30 percent due to impaired drivers, or one person killed on Md. roadways every 66 hours, the Baltimore Sun reports). And while Maryland saw declines in deaths related to aggressive driving and speeding, we had increases in crash fatalities involving motorcycles and older drivers that year. NHTSA has not yet published Maryland motor vehicle accident data for 2015, though our state falls within a region where traffic fatalities rose significantly. We’ll report on Maryland crash data for 2015 as it becomes available.
As accident injury attorneys, we’ve represented victims and their families here in Baltimore County, Maryland for more than two decades. We know the human stories behind the statistics and the loss they represent. Despite positive changes to Maryland traffic laws, we still see too many people driving recklessly. As accident attorneys, we know the consequences of these behaviors can be deadly. No phone call or text message is as important as a human life. And drinking alcohol or using drugs while driving will always be a very bad idea.
NHTSA, which calls the new traffic accident fatality numbers “unacceptable,” will release final data for 2015 later this year. We’ll see what changes in law and policy 2016 may bring at both the national and state level in response to this troubling trend.
Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (Jan – Jun) of 2015 (PDF)
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Nov. 2015
Traffic deaths fell in 2014, but 2015 stats troubling
USA Today Nov. 24, 2015
Maryland traffic fatalities hit 66-year low
The Baltimore Sun March 24, 2015