Why the Rise in Car Crash Deaths and Fatal Traffic Accidents?

Why the Rise in Car Crash Deaths and Fatal Traffic Accidents?

As discussed in our last post, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its annual research report on fatal motor vehicle accidents in the United States.  See, National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2017, October). 2016 fatal motor vehicle crashes: Overview. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 456). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There has been a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents in this country in the past year.  More people are dying in car crashes.

See, “Deadly Car Crashes Are on the Rise Again, Hitting a 9-Year High,” written by Nathan Bomey and published by USAToday on October 6, 2017.

Indiana and Illinois Crash Death Rates:

NHTSA data has been broken down, state by state, as well.  Sadly, we know that not a single day goes by in our part of the country where someone does not die in a fatal traffic accident.

Total the numbers for Indiana and Illinois, and 35 people die each week in our part of the country in preventable motor vehicle accidents. 

Think about that, 35 people: that’s an entire classroom at your child’s school.  It’s over three football teams on the field. It’s an entire sorority (members and pledges) at Purdue. 


  • Indiana   We know there were 821 fatal traffic accidents in Indiana during 2016.  That totals to TWO DEATHS EVERY SINGLE DAY.
  • Illinois  Illinois fatality rates are even more tragic.  In 2016, there were 1082 victims of motor vehicle accidents who died as a result of their injuries.  This tally equals THREE DEATHS PER DAY.

Why Did The Risk of Death Rise in 2016?

Not only did the agency tally the number of fatalities, its researchers delved into the reasons for these accidents and the causes of the crashes.  These are considered preventable accidents.  No one has to perish in a car crash.  So why is this happening?

From the report, entitled, “2016 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview,” we know the following:

1.  Failure to Use Safety Belts

The researchers consider several causes of fatal accidents as “human choices.”  First among them: “unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants,” or those riding in vehicles without wearing seat belts.  Report page 6.

Almost half of the accident victims who died in passenger car accidents were not wearing a safety belt at the time of impact (48%).

During the daylight hours, 59% of those people who died in crashes were not wearing a seat belt.  After dark, things were still extremely serious but apparently a bit more people did buckle up:  56% of traffic fatalities at night involved people not wearing their safety belt. 

2.  Speeding

Another “human choice” that is causing these traffic deaths is speeding.  The researchers found that “speeding-related” crashes increased by 4% in 2016.  Report page 6.

3.  Drunk Driving or Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol

The choice to get behind the wheel after consuming alcoholic beverages and driving drunk is the next contributor to the increase in fatal traffic accidents according to NHTSA data.  Drunk drivers, or “alcohol-impaired drivers” rose 1.7% in 2016.   Report page 6.

Among these drivers, those in passenger cars had the largest increase in DUI fatalities, followed by SUV drivers.

Those driving large trucks while driving under the influence of alcohol who were involved in a fatal accident jumped 50.9%.

What About Distracted Driving?

Many will be surprised that the report did not include distracted driving among the top reasons for these traffic deaths.  However, the researchers report that fatalities in distraction-related car crashes decreased from 2.2%.

That’s according to their data, of course.  Report page 6.

What About Falling Asleep at the Wheel or Drowsy Driving?

As for drivers who are driving while tired and either driving drowsy or actually falling asleep at the wheel, the report shows drowsy driving fatalities decreased 3.5%.  Report page 6.

Of course, just as there will be those who question the distracted driving decrease, there will be some who scoff at a decline in drowsy driving fatalities, particularly with the growing concern over things like sleep apnea in commercial truck drivers.

See, e.g., Dangers of Semi Truck Accidents in Indiana and Illinois: High Risk Remains.

Critics of the Report:  It Is Not Accurate About Dangers of Distracted Driving

Not everyone agrees with the new NHTSA report.  They question the results, especially in the finding that distracted driving is not a serious danger to drivers on American roads today.

Critics point out that the growing number of traffic deaths logically cannot be narrowed to (1) speeding (2) drunk driving and (3) failure to wear safety belts.  They argue that driver distractions are the real reason that more and more people are dying in traffic accidents today.

See, “Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting,” by Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold, published by Bloomberg on October 17, 2017.

Some are demanding future investigation.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is calling for Congress to hold congressional hearings to determine what is really going on here – and why there are more and more people dying in fatal motor vehicle crashes.

Determining the Cause of a Fatal Traffic Accident: Part of Every Injury Lawsuit

From an injury law perspective, determining the cause of a fatal traffic accident is part of the duty of the attorney representing the accident victim and those seeking justice on his behalf.

Accident cases place upon the plaintiff the responsibility of providing evidence of fault – what happened that caused the crash, how the other driver erred and created the circumstances that led to tragedy.

It is not always easy to know that a traffic crash was caused by distraction.  The driver may not admit to being on the phone, or adjusting his stereo, or putting on makeup.  All of these are distractions that can cause a fatal accident.

We understand that it can be difficult to determine and prove distraction as the cause of a fatal crash. See:   Distracted Driving Accidents: How Can Victims Prove that a Distracted Driver Caused the Crash?

Let’s welcome further investigation into the impact of distracted driving in all its forms on the unacceptable fatal traffic fatality rate for this country.  And, of course, let’s be careful out there!

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