Road Deaths Rise by Largest Percent in 50 Years

February 17, 2016

According to the National Safety Council, 2015 was likely the deadliest driving year since 2008. Screen shot courtesy of LoudLabs News/YouTube.
According to the National Safety Council, 2015 was likely the deadliest driving year since 2008. Screen shot courtesy of LoudLabs News/YouTube.

Preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council indicate motor vehicle deaths were 8% higher in 2015 than they were in 2014 — the largest year-over-year percent increase in 50 years.

The National Safety Council estimated 38,300 people were killed and 4.4 million were seriously injured on U.S. roads in 2015. That means 2015 was likely was the deadliest driving year since 2008.

Over the past year at the state level, the National Safety Council estimates Oregon (27%), Georgia (22%), Florida (18%), and South Carolina (16%) all experienced increases in fatalities. But only 13 states showed improvement. Among them were New Mexico (-20%), Kansas (-7%) and New Jersey (-2%).

"These numbers are serving notice: Americans take their safety on the roadways for granted," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "Driving a car is one of the riskiest activities any of us undertake in spite of decades of vehicle design improvements and traffic safety advancements. Engage your defensive driving skills and stay alert so we can reverse this trend in 2016." 

The estimate is subject to slight increases or decreases as data mature, NSC said. The organization has issued annual traffic fatality estimates since 1921. Over the past three years, preliminary estimates have fallen within 1% of final counts.

While many factors likely contributed to the fatality increase, NSC noted, a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are probably at the core of the trend. Average gas prices were 28% lower in 2015 than in 2014 and are projected to continue dropping this year. As a result, driving was more affordable for many Americans. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated a 3.5% increase in the number of miles driven in 2015 compared to 2014. 

To promote safe driving, the National Safety Council advises drivers to:

  • Make sure every passenger buckles up on every trip
  • Designate an alcohol and drug-free driver or arrange alternate transportation
  • Get plenty of sleep and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue
  • Never use a cell phone behind the wheel, even hands-free
  • Stay engaged in teens' driving habits, since teens are three times as likely to crash as more experienced drivers.

Supplemental estimate information can be found here.


  1. 1. Gladigotout [ February 22, 2016 @ 06:24AM ]

    Sooner than later we will have to acknowledge the population problem. Of course the death rate will continue to rise.

  2. 2. Tim King [ February 23, 2016 @ 08:50AM ]

    Surprise...surprise. No matter how safe the vehicles are, a lack of driver training combined with ever increasing distractions adds up to more casualties.

  3. 3. Pam Martin [ February 23, 2016 @ 11:17AM ]

    Oregon 2-lane highways all over the state need to be improved. Can't we use lottery money to bring our highway standards up? We have children and grandchildren that are driving these roads. We can give them all the driving tips and training in the world, but when the idiot is coming over the line or not paying attention this is out of our hands. Defensive driving is a good tool, but not the answer.

  4. 4. Michael Galorath [ February 23, 2016 @ 12:18PM ]

    This past year the auto sales was about 17.6 m or so. All of these new vehicles as I read are being purchased with even more driver distracting options! Wifi, touch screens! etc. Could this be one of the reasons the death tolls are up? It would be interesting to see the statics like that is completed when an commercial vehicles is involved in a fatality. How old are the vehicles? what were the vehicles conditions? Tires? brakes? weather? All things considered a static is just a number. Anyone that has been in the trucking industry. It's always a process to evaluate to determine the causes and how to prevent them in the future. A company is continually evaluating everything after each accident. The NSC like all governmental departments want to fix the barn door after all the animals run away!

  5. 5. Wayne Allen [ February 24, 2016 @ 09:35AM ]

    Tim and Michael are both correct! Operating a vehicle is serious business. I believe that proper driver education/training would trump most distractions! The same training (and enforcement of highway laws) would not only cut down on accidents but would also allow traffic to flow properly and safely. Driving is a privilege and not a right!
    Tougher testing is needed to keep the uniformed/non-skillful drivers off the road. It would cause a greater dependence on mass transit. Which in turn could cause many local municipality's to operate their mass transit systems in the black!
    Let's see, less vehicles, better drivers, less fuel being used, less air pollution. It seems like a win, win, win, win, win. to me

  6. 6. Frank Thompson [ February 26, 2016 @ 03:39PM ]

    I think part of the problem is that air travel has gotten to be such a hassle, the way they treat you, that may people including myself will only vacation to places that I can drive. Therefore, we haven't vacationed in three years. The other part is the media highway, people are so addicted to texting, that they try to do it while they are driving. In spite of the law, I see people texting all the time.


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