After years of steady, gradual declines in the number of traffic fatalities, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced a 9.3% increase in the number of U.S. traffic deaths in the first nine months of 2015. Though the actual amounts for the final quarter and the whole of 2015 won’t be out until later this spring, the preliminary numbers show a marked increase, with a projected 26,000 fatalities from January to September of 2015, compared to 23,796 for the same period of 2014.
A number of factors may have led to the increase in fatalities. For example, lower fuel prices seem to have induced Americans to spend more time on the road. Preliminary figures from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show an increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) of 80.2 billion miles—a 3.5 percent increase over the same period last year.
Additionally, vehicles themselves have been experiencing a number of safety issues. Over the course of the last year, auto manufacturers and government regulators have identified major safety concerns—like malfunctioning Takata airbags and the General Motors ignition switch scandal—leading to recalls of millions of unsafe cars that are currently on the road.
NHTSA has taken the data as an indication that the agency needs to do more to prevent crashes. In fact, citing the fact that human factors contribute to 94 percent of crashes, NHTSA has said that it has already begun a series of regional summits to examine unsafe driver behaviors that contribute to fatalities.