Is Distracted Driving To Blame For 9 Percent Increase In U.S. Traffic Deaths?

Hopping in a vehicle today to get from point A to point B? Realize this: we're currently in the midst of an uptick in vehicle-related deaths, so it's never been more important to be cautious and keep your eyes on other drivers.

This past week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report that sums up the first 9 months of 2015 in traffic deaths, and the trend is a little disconcerting. It's found that in the first three quarters between 2014 and 2015, the number of deaths rose 9.3%, and in particular, the growth in the third quarter alone (versus the previous third quarter) is 11.3%.

Current estimates put the first three quarters of 2015 at 26,000 deaths, and if that average keeps up, that'd put all of 2015 at about 35,000 deaths -- the highest we've seen since 37,423 deaths were recorded in 2008. Similarly, this sudden growth ends a streak of annual declines that started since 2012.

Ford Self Driving Car
An autonomous Ford vehicle in testing

The NHTSA isn't giving explicit reasons for the increase (because it can't, at this point in time), but most people wouldn't find it surprising to learn that simple distractions are playing a big role. "Simple" distractions could include looking at or talking on the phone, or simply not paying enough attention to driving.

The economy can also factor into this. Gas prices as of late have been quite good all over the country, and that of course means that people are driving more, increasing their chances of getting into an accident. In terms of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), the first three quarters of 2015 recorded 1.10, which compared to a decade prior is actually quite an improvement. In 2012, deaths per 100 million VMT was found to be 1.14; in 2005, that number was 1.43.

As our vehicles continue to become safer with each generation, seeing an uptick in fatalities can help prove that even more needs to be done - perhaps not to the vehicles themselves, but instead with stricter safety laws. This kind of report of course gives credence to autonomous vehicles as well. In time, once such vehicles begin to litter our roads, it will be very interesting to see how these results are affected.