Deadly car crashes hit 9-year high in 2016

  • Nathan Bomey
  • USA TODAY
2:39 p.m Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 Local News

Deadly vehicle crashes spiked in the U.S. for a second straight year in 2016, hitting a nine-year high despite the adoption of new safety features and investments in partially self-driving cars.

Car accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6 percent from 2015, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data released Friday.         

The disastrous upward trend marks a startling reversal after fatalities fell in six of the seven years from 2007 to 2014. Deaths are up from an all-time low of 32,744 in 2014.         

While vehicle safety technology is better than ever, other factors have contributed to the deadly increase.

In previous years, distracted driving was a growing culprit. But in 2016, distracted driving deaths fell 2.2 percent to 3,450, according to NHTSA.         

Instead, the 2016 increase was largely attributable to other mistakes by drivers and passengers, including a 4 percent increase in speeding deaths and a 4.6 percent increase in fatalities due to unbelted passengers. NHTSA also reported a 5.1 percent increase in motorcycle deaths.         

Another concerning trend was a 9 percent jump in pedestrian deaths. Drunken driving deaths also rose 1.7 percent.

In some crashes, multiple factors were blamed.

NHTSA said it "continues to work closely with its state and local partners, law enforcement agencies" and others "to help address the human choices" that are blamed for 94 percent of serious crashes.         

The trends underscore why the federal government and automakers are pushing for self-driving vehicles. In 2016, the Obama administration set a goal of eliminating roadway deaths altogether within 30 years, believing that self-driving cars would play a key role.         

The last year in which crash deaths were higher was 2007, when 41,259 were killed.

To be sure, safety advancements such as automatic emergency braking, rearview cameras, lane departure warning and advanced air bags have helped improve car safety.         

But other features have been blamed for increasing distraction.  A study released Thursday by AAA blamed vehicle touchscreen systems for allowing drivers to use the systems while in motion.

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