Just in time for the holiday travel rush, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released accident data for the first half of 2015. Spoiler alert: It is not good news. For the first time in many years, the number of fatal accidents on U.S. highways increased year-over-year. And not by a little.
Nationally, the number of fatal crashes was up 8.1 percent, while in the Great Lakes region, where Illinois is, there was a whopping 16 percent increase. That 16 percent is the largest increase marked of any of the NHTSA's 10 designated regions. The number of miles traveled increased, but so did the number of deaths per million vehicle miles driven.
Agency officials were especially disappointed, because the fatality rate hit its all-time low in 2014. These are just preliminary figures, the NHTSA says, but future adjustments are unlikely to paint a better picture. For the Secretary of Transportation, the results are a clear call to action.
Here in Illinois, the state police have heard that call and are, once again, urging drivers to avoid the Fatal Four moving violations: driving while impaired, seat belts, speeding and distracted driving. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the ISP will conduct roadside safety checks and increase the number of patrols. These activities will involve both marked and unmarked patrol cars, according to one district commander.
According to the NHTSA, the most dangerous of the Fatal Four are driving drunk and failing to use seat belts. Seat belt use is linked to almost half of the fatalities. Impaired driving accounts for another third of the deaths.
In addition to the preliminary 2015 results, the NHTSA's report included the final results for 2014. As we said, the number of deaths last year marked an all-time low, falling just a fraction of a percent from the year before.
The results for other modes of transportation were mixed. For example, states without motorcycle helmet laws -- including Illinois -- saw many more fatalities in 2014. The number of bicyclists killed declined, but the number of pedestrians killed increased.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Traffic fatalities fall in 2014, but early estimates show 2015 trending higher," Nov. 24, 2015
Advantage News, "Illinois State Police urge holiday safety," Nov. 25, 2015