The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revealed that traffic deaths have increased dramatically in 2016. According to their statistics, the first half of the year saw a 10.4% increase in fatal accidents—a surprising spike even after an unexpected increase in traffic deaths in 2015.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, there have been more than 17,700 traffic deaths in the U.S. in the first six months of the year. While these numbers are still down from years past, regulators are concerned that the downward trend has completely reversed.
“We have an immediate crisis on our hands,” NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind told Washington officials. He added that the latest NHTSA statistic is “not just a number. Those are people.”
Is Distracted Driving to Blame?
While officials say it’s too early to determine the exact causes for the uptick in traffic deaths, there is a concern that distracted driving is a major contributing factor. The NHTSA believes that 10% of fatal crashes involving drivers 15 to 19 years old involve some form of distracted driving. According to the latest numbers, 13% of these drivers in the same age group use smartphones while driving. In the 20 to 29 age group? A startling 39%.
Federal officials are supporting national and state efforts to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2046—a lofty goal that, according to many, will require the widespread use of self-driving cars. While the Obama administration has introduced the first guidelines for car makers testing their autonomous cars for safety, doubts remain about the technology’s readiness. This year, the first traffic fatality involving a self-driving car was recorded in Florida.
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