How has the total number of vehicle miles traveled changed?
In 2015, Americans drove more than they have in a decade. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported that Americans drove 3.148 trillion miles in 2015. This figure broke the previous record of 3.003 trillion miles, set in 2007.
According to the data, the total U.S. vehicle miles traveled increased three percent in 2016, compared to 2015. As long as gas prices remain low and air travel remains expensive, this trend is likely to continue.
Although the NHTSA reports that the number of accidents per vehicle miles traveled had dropped significantly — from 1.73 (1994) to 1.08 (2014) per million miles traveled — the number grew to 1.12 in 2015.
How much does human error contribute to wrongful death car accidents?
Basic human error remains a constant factor in vehicle fatalities. Although the data varies across sources, the NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey found that human error is the “critical reason” for 94 percent of auto accidents.
Driver performance error and driver judgment error are two categories explored recently in an extensive study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The PNAS research demonstrated that driver performance error — including failure to use turn signals, stop/yield violations, making an improper turn and driving too slowly — increases the overall risk of a crash 18.2 times.
How has driver distraction influenced car crash fatalities?
Of the car crash fatalities that happened every day in 2015, almost 10 of those resulted from distracted driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The role that distracted driving plays in roadway fatalities is likely being underreported, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), which means that this problem is likely even worse than experts previously thought.
Pew Research Center (PRC) data shows that U.S. cell phone ownership increased from 66 percent in 2006 to 95 percent in 2016. Smartphone ownership increased from 35 to 77 percent between 2011 (the earliest PRC began tracking smartphone ownership) and 2016. Distracted driving accidents also saw large increases during this period.
The NHTSA reports that, for 2015, distraction-affected fatalities increased 8.8 percent from 2014, as compared to a 7.2 percent overall increase in car crash deaths.
It is important to note that while cell phone and smartphone use are the most talked about, they are not the only factors associated with distracted driving.
AAA reports that all the following can contribute to an accident:
• On-board automotive technology, including climate control and “infotainment” systems
• Mental distractions
Are there any other reasons for this increase in car accident fatalities?
While most believe that safety technology helps us avoid accidents, this technology might actually lead to more accidents, according to WIRED.com. This is because we rely so heavily on these technologies that we allow ourselves to become complacent and distracted.
Instead of checking twice before we merge into another lane, we might glance once and then allow our blind spot monitors to do the rest. But technology, just like humans can make mistakes — and in these cases, they can be deadly.
If drivers put their phones down, drove more carefully, focused their entire attention on the road, and stopped relying so fully on their vehicle’s safety features, we could stop these deadly accidents from happening in the future.