Reverse Road Fatality Trends? New Figures Give a Safety Official Hope

Motor vehicle deaths dropped by 1 percent in the first half of 2017, according to the National Safety Council. But before you start celebrating, you should know that they remain 8 percent higher than the same period two years ago.

What’s more, the final six months of the year tend to be deadlier than the first six months, the NSC stated in its August press release about 2017 road fatalities. An estimated 18,680 people have died on U.S. roads since January, while 2.1 million others were seriously injured, the release stated.

Yet, when we asked the man behind these numbers, NSC Manager of Statistics Ken Kolosh, for his key takeaway from the press release, he remained optimistic.

“The most notable finding is that after seeing deaths on our roads dramatically increase over the last two years, we may finally be reaching a plateau,” he asserted. “The challenge for us now is to find ways to reverse the upward trend — not just pause it.”

Kolosh urges safety managers to discuss the following four tips with their drivers to help “reverse the upward trend” and reduce on-the-road fatalities.

  1. Disconnect from electronics. Reversing the trend begins with curtailing distracted driving, Kolosh said. In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. experienced yearly increases exceeding 6 percent in motor vehicle fatalities, the largest two-year percentage increase in deaths in 53 years. Yet the country saw about 3 percent yearly increases in miles traveled, Kolosh said.

    “The fatalities during this two-year time frame were increasing more than miles traveled, indicating that factors other than mileage are contributing to the increased death toll,” Kolosh said. “NSC fears distracted driving is likely one of these factors. The problem is, distracted driving is hard to measure; it’s hard for law enforcement officers to determine if distraction played a role. Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, so the laws are enforced inconsistently nationwide.”

    Given the large size of their vehicles and their long hours, it’s especially crucial that commercial drivers don’t drive distracted, Kolosh said. “The amount of time commercial drivers spend in a vehicle and the number of miles they drive exposes them to a higher chance of a collision,” he noted.

  2. Manage fatigue, especially as days get shorter in the fall. Road fatalities increase in the summer months then peak again in October around the time change, Kolosh said. “People are driving in the dark once October hits, and it hinders road safety,” he explained. In fact, with 3,550 road fatalities, October was the second most deadly month of 2015, behind only August, according to an NSC analysis using National Highway Transportation Safety Administration FARS data.

    For the utmost safety, commercial drivers should receive safety training regularly and adhere to hours of service rules so they stay alert behind the wheel, Kolosh said. Large trucks make up just 4 percent of vehicles on the road, but account for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes. That translates to more than 4,000 deaths involving large trucks. Implementing procedures to combat driver fatigue and ensure commercial drivers understand new safety technologies in their vehicles can help keep every motorist safer, Kolosh said.

  3. Be aware of pedestrians. Distracted driving-related crashes increased by 9 percent in 2015 while pedestrian fatalities increased by nearly 10 percent. “The NSC fears that distracted driving is helping drive the pedestrian fatalities trend,” Kolosh said. “An increase in pedestrian fatalities has been an ongoing concern for us for the last seven or eight years because the proportion of pedestrian deaths to overall deaths has been increasing.” The issue also may be compounded by a surge in the number of distracted pedestrians who may inadvertently be putting themselves in harm's way.

  4. Buckle up. “At the end of the day, regardless of what’s happening on the roads where we live and work, we can keep ourselves safe by buckling up on every trip,” Kolosh said. “Wearing a seat belt is so simple, yet so important. It’s one of the easiest things people can do to save lives on the road.”

The National Safety Council’s mission is to eliminate traffic fatalities within 30 years.

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