Surge in traf­fic deaths outpaces in­crease in travel

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - NEWS -

WASHINGTON (AP) — Traf­fic deaths surged about 8 per­cent in the first nine months of last year, con­tin­u­ing an alarm­ing up­ward spi­ral that might be par­tially ex­plained by more Amer­i­cans on the roads be­cause of the eco­nomic re­cov­ery, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates re­leased Fri­day.

The sharp in­crease comes as driv­ers are putting more miles on the road than ever, the gov­ern­ment said. But the rise in deaths is out­pac­ing the in­crease in travel.

Ve­hi­cle miles trav­eled in the first nine months of 2016 rose about 3 per­cent.

There were 27,875 deaths in the first three quar­ters of last year com­pared with 25,808 deaths in the same pe­riod in 2015.

Ex­perts think the in­creased travel is mostly a re­sult of an im­proved econ­omy and low gas prices.

But NHTSA’s data ex­perts said in­creased travel and a bet­ter econ­omy alone can’t ex­plain the rise in deaths.

“We still have to fig­ure out what is un­der­ly­ing those lives lost,” NHTSA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Rosekind said. “If it was sim­ple, we would al­ready know that.”

The in­crease in deaths is es­pe­cially con­cern­ing be­cause it hap­pened at a time when cars are safer than ever.

But there also are trends that are dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, such as in­creased use of cell­phones and other mo­bile de­vices be­hind the wheel.

And re­searchers are try­ing to tease out whether le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana for re­cre­ational or med­i­cal use in some states might be lead­ing to more stoned driv­ers be­hind the wheel and more crashes.

Weather also is a con­sid­er­a­tion, NHTSA of­fi­cials said.

Re­search shows traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties go up in warmer weather months when day­light hours are longer and peo­ple do more driv­ing. Warmer than nor­mal win­ters in some ar­eas of the coun­try might be a fac­tor.

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