According to the National Safety Council, traffic deaths increased 6 percent to 40,200 — the first time since 2007 that more than 40,000 have died in motor vehicle crashes in a single year.
The 2016 total follows a 7 percent rise in 2015. Much of this is attributed to continued lower gasoline prices and an improving economy which has increased motor-vehicle mileage.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s early estimates show the motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2016 increased about 8 percent as compared to the motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2015. Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first nine months of 2016 increased about 3 percent.
All 10 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regions experienced increases during the first nine months of 2016. In particular, the South, Southeast and Northeast saw motor vehicle traffic fatalities spike between 11 and 20 percent alone.
Here are 5 factors contributing to the increase in auto accident rates:
As the economy grows and gas and diesel remain cheap, drivers can expect heavy congestion and more cars on the road. (Photo: Shutterstock)
More cars on the road and miles driven today
Cheap gas and diesel, plus a stronger economy, has caused high road density with more cars on the road. The Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration shows that driving jumped 3.5 percent over 2015, the largest uptick in more than a decade. Americans drove more than 3.15 trillion miles, equivalent to around 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto. The previous record, around 3 trillion miles, was set in 2007.
As drivers divert attention from the road to their phone, they create greater risks for themselves and everyone around them. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Beyond texting and driving, from Bluetooth to Snapchat, approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while behind the wheel of an automobile. On top of that, we now have sensors and technologies that respond to our every move in vehicles. We have apps that connect to center consoles and more touch-screen technology in vehicles than ever before.
Along with their inexperience, millennial drivers are more likely to ignore the rules of the road, which can lead to more auto accidents overall. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Younger, more inexperienced drivers
A new study from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety show that millennial drivers (more 19- to 39-year-old drivers) are texting, speeding and running red lights. They also think it's OK to speed in school zones. While the statistics improve for older drivers, it’s not by much. From a commercial driver standpoint, the experience (or inexperience) of drivers can lead to more auto accidents overall.
The overall cost of car repair is more expensive as enhanced technology is required to ensure car functionality and optimization. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Cost of car repair more expensive
Think about your grandfather’s car. If the engine blew, you went to a mechanic who fixed the problem. Now, everything in a car is connected by a computer. If one fuse blows, it will likely have an impact on other parts of the vehicle. Yes, computers make it easier and quicker to fix, but overall costs tend to be higher, especially because cars on the road are much newer.
Ultimately, we pay for the technology (computers, advancements in bodywork, HVAC, etc.). To diagnose many computer issues and the dozens of sensors requires a scan tool that is capable of accessing the thousands of manufacturer-specific trouble codes and data streams. A good one can cost $7,000 alone.
Related: 20 best cars for the money in 2017
The cost of medical care has increased as more than 35 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by vehicle accidents. (Source: Shutterstock)
Injury costs from accidents on the rise
No surprise, the cost of medical care has increased, most of which are spinal and soft tissue injuries. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 35 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by vehicle accidents (truck, automobile, or motorcycle). Think about this — medical spending for spinal care per patient increased by 95 percent from $487 to $950 between 1999 to 2008, accounting for inflation.
But think about the full picture, which compounds the issue. You get whiplash (direct medical cost), have to stay home for a few weeks (loss of income) and get physical therapy (cost of post-injury medical care — according to one estimate, about 25 percent of whiplash injury patients end up suffering chronic pain). The costs can triple from an economic and quality-of-life perspective, costing the U.S. $2.7 billion per year.