The number of people killed in U.S. traffic accidents rose 7.2 percent last year, the largest increase since 1966 and one that reversed decades of declining fatalities.
More than 35,000 people died in traffic crashes in 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Monday, with increases in nearly every segment of the population.
North Carolina logged 1,379 traffic fatalities in 2015, government data shows, a 7.4 percent increase from the previous year. The 411 alcohol-related deaths were up 13.2 percent.
Job growth and low fuel prices increased driving, DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said, contributing to higher fatality rates.
Vehicle miles traveled increased 3.5 percent in 2015 over the previous year, the largest increase in nearly 25 years. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increased to a level not seen in 20 years. Motorcyclist deaths rose more than 8 percent.
Almost half of the passengers killed in vehicle accidents weren’t wearing seat belts, the agency said. Nearly one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding, and one in 10 involved distractions.
“The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled,” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. “While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”
Traffic deaths were nearly 25 percent higher just a decade ago. Since then, safety programs have helped increase seat belt use and reduce impaired driving. Air bags and vehicle stability controls also contributed to reducing fatalities.
In response to the increase, federal agencies issued a call to action to state and local officials, technologists, data scientists and policy experts to help determine the causes of the 2015 increase.