Do you care that 35,092 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2015?

USDOT CHART: Occupants and Nonoccupants Killed and Injured in Traffic Crashes“The Nation lost 35,092 people in crashes on U.S. roadways during 2015, an increase from 32,744 in 2014. The 7.2-percent increase is the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. The largest percentage increase previously was an 8.1-percent increase from 1965 to 1966.” – U.S. Department of Transportation

After reading an overview of the 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes Report from the USDOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and sifting through some of the statistics, it would seem that our country has a long way to go toward safe transit. And as our population continues to rise, it will only get worse if we don’t take action to stop the killing.

Linda Bailey, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) issued a statement in response to the release of 2015 safety data. In it, she said:

Yesterday we learned that U.S. traffic fatalities went up dramatically in 2015, from a level that was already unacceptably high. As city transportation experts, we say: human error is unavoidable, but good street design can make sure that a mistake or a distraction does not result in a death. Cities must redesign their streets to save lives, and they need to be supported by their state and federal governments as they do so.

Let’s pause to reflect on the loss of 35,000 human beings. Why are we so oblivious to these deaths? How many people killed on our roadways until we reach that magic number that makes people care? It is past time to shift our transportation networks to become safer and more accommodating for all modes of travel. Some methods may be costly, but at least we will stop paying for it with thousands of lives.

The release from NACTO continued:

Especially troubling, this national data shows that the most vulnerable road users – people walking and biking, statistically more likely to be old or very young, poor, or of color – are, each year, an increasingly larger proportion of traffic fatalities. These fatalities, and the more than 2.4 million serious and life-altering injuries that happen annually on U.S. streets, are statistically predictable and preventable through better street design and reduced vehicle speeds.

What about pedestrians and cyclists (referred to as “pedalcyclists” in this report)? According to a release from USDOT:

  • Pedestrian fatalities increased by 466, a 9.5-percent increase. The 2015 pedestrian fatality count (5,376) is the highest number since 1996.
  • Pedalcyclist fatalities increased by 89, a 12.2-percent increase. The 2015 pedalcyclist fatality count (818) is the highest number since 1995.

One reason? We’re back to driving more often after a decline since the economic recession 2007-08. “Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased by 3.5 percent from 2014 to 2015, the largest increase since 1992, nearly 25 years ago,” according to USDOT.

The real reason? We just don’t seem to care enough to make changes to our transportation infrastructure and our own personal ways of life. More from NACTO:

While any increase in fatalities is alarming, focusing on one year’s count ignores that disproportionately high numbers of people have been dying on U.S. streets every year for decades. Even comparing against our safest year in recent history, 2010, the U.S. traffic fatality rate was almost double that of our industrialized peers. For too long, we have accepted traffic fatalities as part of the cost of doing business. But these crashes, and the fatalities, injuries, pain, and heartbreak they cause, are no accident. Federal and state standards incentivize building wide streets that allow cars to go fast but create dangerous conditions for everyone.

USDOT CHART: Virginia and National deaths 2015Deaths on Virginia roadways are up 7.1 percent with 753 reported fatalities, which is in line with the National increase, according to the USDOT report. (See the report for a chart on all states.)

USDOT CHART: Change in Fatality CompositionFinally, let’s save the people who are not even driving around, namely pedestrians, cyclists and more. They are human beings too. The percentage dead from crashes is up from 13 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2015. See this chart and description from USDOT on the change in fatality composition:

The most obvious reduction is in the percentage of passenger car occupant fatalities – decreasing from 42 percent of the fatalities to 36 percent. The percentage of light-truck occupant fatalities decreased from 30 percent 10 years ago to 28 percent in 2015. The proportion of motorcyclist fatalities increased from 11 percent in 2006 to 14 percent in 2015. The proportion of nonoccupant fatalities increased from 13 percent to 18 percent over the same 10-year period.

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