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Traffic Safety: Vehicle Fatalities Spike by Record Percentage in 2015

August 16, 2016

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the strikingly rapid increase in vehicle fatality rate from 2014 to 2015. The 4.4 percent jump marks the largest single-year increase in 50 years, highlighting the need for all drivers to increase defensive driving safety.

This 2015 trend comes after a record-low fatality rate in 2014: the NHTSA reported 1.07 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, whereas the 2015 rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled landed upward of 4.5. Among the 50 states, only 13 saw a decrease in fatality rate, leaving the other 37 states responsible for the increase.

Rising Car Crash Fatalities: Possible Contributing Factors

Various state laws may contribute to the imbalanced fatality rate. In particular, laws related to speed limits, motorcycle helmet use, and seatbelt requirements are among the most likely candidates. Additionally, lower gas prices and job growth may have contributed to both the national rise in fatality rates as well as the differing rates among states. According to the NHTSA, total vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. increased by 3.5 percent, a statistic driven by factors that enable more recreational driving (due to lower gas prices) and more work-related driving (because of job growth).

Another factor that may be driving an increase in accidents is distracted driving, especially texting. The National Safety Council (NSC) claims cell phone-related activities cause approximately 27% of all crashes. Texting-related crashes, in particular, rose one percent from 2014 to 2015, while the number of crashes involving drivers talking on cell phones remained constant at 21%.

Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC explained, “While the public understands the risks associated with distracted driving, the data shows the behavior continues—we need better education, laws, and enforcement to make our roads safer for everyone.”

Vehicle safety continues to increase with technology features—stability control assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward-collision warning, and brake assist to name a few—which rules out vehicle manufacturing as a factor in the rising vehicle fatality rate.

The Breakdown: Fatal Car Accidents

The NHTSA’s 2014 and 2015 crash data reports four trends remaining constant:

  • Drunk driving was responsible for roughly one-third of fatalities.
  • Speeding continued to remain a factor in many fatal car crashes.
  • Motorcycle deaths were far higher in states with lax helmet laws.
  • In 49 percent of vehicle crashes, the occupants killed were not wearing a seatbelt.

Differentiating data included a rise in pedestrian deaths by 3.1 percent from the previous year, distracted driving accounting for 10 percent of fatal crashes, and drowsy driving being responsible for 2.6 percent of crash fatalities.

The Need for Increasing Driving Safety

With 94 percent of crashes being caused by human error, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind explained, “It is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction, and other risks that kill thousands every year — and time for state and local governments to reassess whether they are making the right policy choices to improve highway safety.”

The NHTSA plans to continue the launch of safety programs to fight speeding, drowsy driving, misuse of safety features, and human behavioral issues in vehicle driving. As a driver, it is critical for you to take note of safety initiatives, increase awareness on the road, and drive responsibly.

Contact the Law Office of William D. Cook if You’ve Been in a Vehicle Accident

No one expects to be involved in a serious car accident or lose a loved one because of a vehicle collision — especially when someone else is responsible. If you or someone you know has been involved in an auto accident, seek medical attention; then, contact the Law Office of William D. Cook for professional and trustworthy representation.


Traffic fatalities fall in 2014, but early estimates show 2015 trending higher. (2015). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from

2015 traffic fatalities rose by largest percent in 50 years, safety group says. (2016). National Public Radio. Retrieved from


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