Record jump in motor vehicle fatalities

WASHINGTON — The estimated 35,200 people killed on American roads in 2015 represent the largest one-year jump since national record-keeping began, according to safety groups.

The increase is approximately a 7.7 percent increase over the 32,675 killed in 2014, according to early projections of 2015 data from the National Highway Safety Administration.

“After many years of progress, this increase is troubling,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, in a statement.

The 35,200 figure ends the nearly 25 percent drop in the number of fatalities between 2005 and 2014, including a record low in 2011. Last year was the deadliest driving year since 2008. It was also the year in which American drove 3.1 trillion miles, more than ever before.

The information comes as tens of millions of Americans were hitting the road for the Fourth of July holiday, one of the busiest and deadliest days on the year on the nation’s roadways.

The GHSA projects even higher percentage increases for pedestrians and motorcyclists — up to 10 percent each.

Adkins said motorcycle deaths have risen in part because of weak state laws on wearing helmets. A majority of states no longer require riders to wear helmets, he said.

“Motorcyclists are a bigger and bigger percentage of deaths each year,” Adkins said.

Adkins said that while the auto industry has made safer cars, which increases the likelihood for vehicle occupants to survive a crash, “pedestrians and motorcyclists lack these same benefits and remain just as susceptible to serious injury or death in the event of a collision.”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx attributed the increase in fatalities to lower fuel costs.

“The upticks [in deaths] we’re seeing correlate to lower fuel prices, but we don’t want to give ourselves that excuse so we are digging into different areas where we can have an impact on this,” Foxx told journalists earlier this week.

The department, which includes NHTSA, is looking at how advances in automotive technology can reduce the death toll, he said. NHTSA’s revamping last year of its safety rating system for new cars to include automated emergency braking technologies may help, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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