As 2015 comes to a close, it is important to consider the events of the past year and look ahead towards the future.  One important consideration is the number of traffic fatalities which occurred over the course of this past year. Unfortunately, data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals a troubling increase in car accident fatalities over 2015 compared with crash deaths during prior years.

In its statement warning motorists of increased fatality rates, NHTSA indicated the numbers should be a “call to action.” Motorists should make a commitment to doing better in 2016 and making safer decisions behind the wheel to prevent car accidents in Phoenix and throughout Arizona.

Arizona Drivers Face Risks from Rising Traffic Crash Rates

According to NHTSA, the number of people killed in car accidents in 2015 based on preliminary estimates is up 8.1 percent compared with the number of deaths in 2014. In 2014, 32,675 people died in traffic crashes.

The fatality rate in 2014 had hit a record low, with 1.07 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Data from 2015 suggests a 4.4 percent increase in the fatality rate. This is a “troubling departure from a general downward trend” in car crash deaths, according to NHTSA’s statement.

Car crash fatalities had been declining for almost a decade, with a .1 percent decline in deaths in collisions in 2014 compared with in 2013. The rise in fatalities in 2015 is a significant one, and it indicates the decline during past years may have been due, in part, to economic conditions rather than improvements in road safety or vehicle safety.

The economy has been improving, and gas prices have also dropped to record low levels. With more money due to a better economy, more teens with jobs, and lower gas prices, there are higher numbers of drivers on the road and higher numbers of younger drivers. People are also traveling longer distances on the roads.  More people means more potential for drivers to get into crashes, and more crowded roads, which can exacerbate collision risks.

Drivers, however, can and should try to ensure a bump in the economy and a drop in gas prices don’t have tragic consequences for road safety. Drivers must make safe and smart choices like staying sober (1/3 of fatalities were caused in drunk driving crashes according to NHTSA); staying focused (10 percent of crashes were caused by distracted drivers); and staying awake and alert (at least 846 people were killed in drowsy driving crashes over the course of 2014). Sharing the road with pedestrians is also important as there were 3.1 percent more pedestrian fatalities in 2014 compared with 2013.

Arizona is one of the states where there were more deaths in 2015 than 2014, with National Safety Council reporting 451 fatalities in the first half of 2015 compared with 382 in the same time period in 2014. Drivers in the state should make a special effort to ensure they are not taking unnecessary risks behind the wheel which endanger themselves and other motorists on the road.