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NHTSA reports 2015 crash data, renews focus on driving behaviors

More people died on America's highways during the first half of 2015 than during the same period in 2014. The data is only preliminary, but, as much as anyone would like it to improve, it is hard to imagine that it will change much by the time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announces the final results toward the end of next year.

The agency finds the results alarming for a number of reasons. First, the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents had capped off a decade of declines with an all-time low at the end of 2014. Second, the total increased by more than 8 percent. And, finally, the number of fatalities per million vehicle miles driven also increased, in this case by 4.4 percent.

Again, these are preliminary numbers, and, as such, state-level data is not yet available. New Jersey, however, was apparently one of the states with better than average results. The state is part of the NHTSA's Region 2 (along with New York, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico), which logged a 4 percent increase, while other parts of the country logged as much as a 16 percent increase.

For Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the results are a call to action to review and to reevaluate all efforts to improve safety on the roads. NHTSA officials will convene a series of meetings around the country in 2016 in an effort to generate new ideas on how to combat human behavioral issues that have helped to push the fatality rate higher. By focusing on things like drugged, drunk and drowsy driving, the agency is not diminishing the importance of vehicle recalls and manufacturing safety. Rather, the meetings will address the most common contributors to motor vehicle accident fatalities.

Indeed, the data shows that most fatalities are linked to two behaviors in particular: drunk driving and not using seat belts. These two behaviors do more than top the list: Almost half of the people who die in car accidents are not wearing a seat belt, and one-third of fatal crashes are linked to drunk driving. The goal is for the final meeting, a summit in Washington, D.C., to identify new approaches for lawmakers, safety advocates and other stakeholders to adopt as quickly as possible.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Traffic fatalities fall in 2014, but early estimates show 2015 trending higher," Nov. 24, 2015

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