If you watch the news or read the paper, you’re probably familiar with headlines like: “Teenagers die in Missouri 291 crash”; “Two killed, two injured after car crashes off I-435 overpass”; or “Motorcyclist fatally injured in accident.” After an extended period of steep decline, traffic fatalities in the U.S. have begun to climb again. Not only are crash deaths shooting upward in Missouri, they’re doing so at a faster pace than the national average.
National Traffic Statistics
According to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there was an increase in traffic fatalities of 7.7 percent in 2015, the largest percentage spike from year-to-year in 50 years. In actual numbers, traffic deaths for 2015 were at roughly 35,200 compared to the 32,675 reported in 2014. It was the same story almost everywhere in the U.S., with 9 out of 10 regions showing spikes in fatalities, particularly from pedestrians and bicyclists.
In addition, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing traffic fatalities in the U.S. to those in 19 other “high income” nations ranked the U.S. as the worst. The U.S. traffic fatality rate was roughly twice that of the international average. Of all the states, Kansas and Missouri were the worst for increases in motor vehicle fatalities.
Accident Statistics In Missouri
Although numbers had gone down for two consecutive years, the number of deadly crashes in Missouri rose significantly in 2015. While roughly 760 people died in accidents in 2014, more than 850 lost their lives in 2015. Instead of keeping pace with the national average, Missouri outstriped it with an 11.4 percent spike. It’s the first year since 2012 that the number of fatalities has been over 800. Missouri State Highway Patrol blames many of the deaths on careless drivers, stating speeding, driver inattention, and impairment as causes.
Why Fatalities Are Increasing
Although it can be difficult to understand why there would be a surge in traffic deaths after a steady period of decline, experts generally agree that fatal car accidents are typically caused by speeding, failure to use a seatbelt, and intoxication. Other factors that might be playing a role include a stronger economy and an increased number of drivers on the road. In two of three states where fatalities were down — New Mexico and Alaska, for instance — the unemployment rate was higher. In contrast, Oregon, Georgia, and South Carolina all posted impressive improvements on unemployment, but had some of the biggest increases in traffic deaths. Perhaps less people on the road in a daily commute, means less chances of getting in an accident, or vice versa. Of course, Rhode Island managed to reduce both traffic fatalities and unemployment.
There is also a great deal of debate between automakers, regulators, and safety experts regarding the surge of technology and its impact. Generally, automakers believe they can use new technology to prevent accidents and make driving safer. While there are many improvements to vehicles, the most significant impact technology seems to be making is distracting drivers at a greater rate than ever. Despite various regulations, motorists are using mobile devices to text, take selfies, post to social media, play games, and any other number of tasks that take their eyes off the road. Distractions are at an all time high on the road and while many states have some regulations, such as Missouri’s ban for texting if you’re under 21, no state has yet banned the use of cell phones entirely. Even if such a ban were in place, it would be extremely difficult to police.
The High Cost of Traffic Fatalities
The greatest cost of traffic deaths is, of course, the value of the individual lives and the burden their friends and family must shoulder. There is, however, also a substantial monetary loss connected to these lives, from medical expenses to workers’ compensation costs. In 2013, when traffic deaths were at a low, the U.S. spent over $44 billion on medical care and lost income. Missouri traffic deaths accounted for a large percentage of this amount; a full $981 million despite the relatively small population of 6 million people. Nearly half of the cost, 46 percent, was from young adult drivers and another 13 percent from teens.
Preventing Traffic Deaths
Although accidents are accidents, most traffic deaths can actually be prevented. Both motorists and government regulators must take steps for ensuring driver safety. Dr. Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA administrator stated 94 percent of crashes are caused by human choice or error, meaning it is human behavior that must be the adjusted to prevent accidents. Drivers can focus in on these prevention methods can help reduce the number of accidents and related deaths:
- Remove Distractions – More than 3,000 people are killed every year and many more injured due to distracted drivers. While Missouri only specifically prohibits teens from texting and driving, anyone can be distracted while talking on the phone or engaging in other activities that don’t directly pertain to driving.
- Buckle Up – Wearing a seatbelt is definitely not overrated. Studies consistently show buckling up is key to preventing serious injuries and fatalities in car accidents. In fact, 63 percent of drivers and passengers killed last year in Missouri were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.
- Don’t Drink and Drive – We all know the inherent dangers of drinking and driving. Over 65 percent of single car crashes involve alcohol as do 36 percent of pedestrian related accidents.
- Follow Speed Limits – Going too fast or too slow is dangerous on the road, contributing to roughly 30 percent of accidents. Drivers should follow all speed regulations as well as other posted safety measures.
Injured in a Car Accident? Get Help Now
If you’ve been in a car accident and need help, contact Krause & Kinsman Law Firm. Our Kansas City auto accident legal team will answer any questions you have about your case and help you build a successful claim. With years of experience in car accident law, we’ll work hard to make sure you get the justice you deserve.
Robert Kinsman is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Robert Kinsman is passionate about normalizing the life of his clients after they have been seriously injured. Learn more about his experience here.