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Can anything be done to slow the rise of fatal car crashes?

2016 was a deadly one on the nation's roadways. For the first time since 2007, more than 40,000 (40,200 to be exact) people were killed in motor vehicle accidents across the country. This represents a six percent rise over 2015, and a 14 percent increase from 2014.

Cheaper gas prices and a recovering economy led more people to hit the road for both work and for play last year, but the increase in highway miles driven alone doesn't account for the rising number of deaths. So, what could have caused the spike in fatal accidents? A safety watchdog organization has some ideas about possible causes as well as how to slow the rising tide.

Reasons why

The National Safety Council, in conjunction with the release of the preliminary crash data from 2016, also released the results of a nationwide driver behavior survey. The survey shows that most drivers are habitually engaging in unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, any of which could lead to injury-causing or fatal accidents.

For example, nearly half (47 percent) of drivers surveyed admitted texting behind the wheel, in spite of countless public safety campaigns showing how unsafe the practice is and the fact that nearly every state has outlawed it. Texting is a particularly dangerous activity to do while driving because it involves three separate types of distractions: manual (taking your hands off the wheel to type), visual (taking your eyes off the road to see your phone's screen) and cognitive (using valuable brain processing space to keep track of the conversation).

Almost a quarter of drivers admitted to the NSC that they have driven while under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana. Both of these substances, along with many other prescription and illicit drugs, can have a huge impact on a driver's ability to react to road, traffic or weather conditions, follow signage, stay in a single lane and navigate properly.

The survey also reveals that 67 percent of drivers admit that they regularly break posted speed limits, something that not only increases the likelihood of being involved in an accident - you have much less time to react if you are speeding - but also, higher speeds at impact will almost certainly result in more serious or fatal injuries to those involved.

Hope for the future

The NSC's message wasn't all "doom and gloom." It is certainly possible to turn things around and start heading in the right direction towards lowering the number of accident-related injuries and fatalities. NSC spokesperson Deborah Hersman offered a number of initiative proposals that could certainly help make our roads safer. These include:

  • Graduated licensing procedures for novice drivers under the age of 21 (the NSC recommends universal, nationwide adoption of this type of licensing, which is currently only done in certain states)
  • Mandatory ignition interlock device installation for all DUI/DWI offenders (even for first offenses)
  • Primary enforcement of seatbelt violations nationwide
  • Mandatory helmet use for all motorcycle and bicycle riders and passengers
  • Banning all cellphone - handheld and hands-free alike - use behind the wheel
  • Pedestrian safety campaigns aimed at learning to share the road safely with vehicle traffic
  • Standard installation in new automobiles of crash-preventing technologies like lane-deviation warning systems, emergency braking and rear-view cameras
  • Use of automated enforcement devices like speed and red light cameras across the country

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