Are Fatal Car Accidents on the Rise?

Fatal Car Accidnet
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Tom Carter

Have you been feeling more anxious about getting in a car more now than ever? In 2016, the latest figures available, the National Safety Council estimated that 40,200 individuals died in car accidents––a 6 percent rise from 2015. The previous year saw a similar increase in fatal crashes: 7 percent. In just two years, that means we have seen a 13 percent rise in car accident fatalities, the most significant jump in more than 50 years. What is causing this, and what can be done about it? 

What Is Causing The Increase In Fatal Car Crashes

There are many different factors at play. Some government officials argue that one of the most significant factors is the lax enforcement of and laws on the books that cover drunk driving, speeding, and seatbelt laws. Many states do not consider the lack of wearing a seatbelt to be an offense an officer can pull someone over for, and speed limits around the nation are rising. Given that about half of all fatal car crashes happen to a victim that is not wearing a seatbelt, and about a third of fatal accidents involve a driver who was impaired by drugs and alcohol, the logic that these all contribute to the deadly car crash epidemic may very well hold true.

As the New York Times reported, seeding may play a role in all of these cases. David Brown, a research associate at the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, notes that “Total crashes were up less than 5 percent, but fatalities were up 25 percent,” he said in an interview. “I think speeding is the No. 1 problem. There are times of the day when we only have one or two troopers on duty in a county so that you can speed, and there is no one there to deter it.”

In addition to the law and order reasons for the increase, there are also simpler ones. Since the economy has been continuing to improve, people are driving more to their jobs and on family trips and joyrides. But that does not explain the increase in fatal accidents, because the number of deadly crashes per mile driven is also on the rise. In addition to the traditional sources that can divert one’s attention from the road, such as eating, speaking to passengers or chatting on the cellphone, new dangers are also emerging as people become more reliant on technology.

Distracted driving from new sources––think scanning Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat on your phone––have also been blamed for part of this increase. 

Are There Any Times That Fatal Car Crashes Are Most Likely? 

Hospital visits to the emergency room are often highest around the holidays, and likewise, fatal car accidents correspond to times when risky behavior is often overlooked. July 4th, in addition to fireworks, brings with it the highest number of fatal car crashes. Second to July 4th is January 1st, presumably because drivers are either sleep deprived or still walking off the effects of a midnight toast of champagne. Indeed, nearly half of either the drivers or the victims of deadly crashes on both of these dates have blood alcohol levels over 0.08, which is the legal limit in most states and localities.

Close on the heels of New Year's Eve regarding fatal accidents is April 20th or “420,” the unofficial holiday on which legal (and probably recreational) marijuana sales are the... highest. You are about 12 percent more likely to get in a fatal car crash on 420 than on any other day of the month. 

What Can We Do To Stop Fatal Car Crashes? 

There are several possible solutions in the works, and none of them are without controversy. The National Transportation Safety Board has started a highly ambitious initiative that is aimed at eliminating fatal car crashes in the next 30 years. This initiative is future looking and mostly relies on the assumption that self-driving cars which are also extremely safe and self-efficient will soon rule the roads, a possible future is also not so sure. 

Without requiring massive technological advances, there are other measures consumer advocates are backing. The National Safety Council advocates for smart ignition locks that keep drunk drivers from driving their cars, mandatory seatbelt laws, and banning the use of all cell phones for drivers.