After years of being able to feel a little safer when you get behind the wheel comes some troubling news: Last year saw an almost 8 percent spike in traffic deaths, making it one of the deadliest years on the road since 2008.
Following years of declines, last year saw a jump in fatalities to 35,200 people nationwide. Even more disconcerting is the rise in traffic-related deaths involving bicyclists and pedestrians.
Vehicles are getting safer with each model year and statistics indicate people are paying more attention to life-saving precautions such as wearing seat belts, whether through better awareness or enforcement.
It’s not enough to counter the risks motorists are still taking.
Although there are a number of factors at play in the sharp rise in traffic deaths last year — and early indications of another increase this year — driver inattention and carelessness remain the biggest problems on the roads.
Compounding the situation is a surge in the miles behind the wheel for the average driver. As the economy continues to improve and gas prices have come down from wallet-strangling highs of years past, people are hitting the road.
The more people, the more potential for crashes, obviously.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says higher speed limits that have been put into place by most states over recent years are to blame for about 1,900 additional deaths each year. That’s about the same number of lives saved as a result of air bags, effectively canceling out the benefit.
In Illinois, where there have been 520 traffic-related fatalities through Sunday — an increase of 48 from the same time frame last year — unlicensed drivers and improper use of vehicle restraints are concerns. Of the 486 fatal crashes so far this year, 73 involved a driver who either never had a license or was driving under a suspension or revocation. In 115 of the crashes, restraints such as seat belts were either not used or were used improperly, according to Illinois Department of Transportation statistics.
They join a host of reckless actions that still plague our roads: Speeding — the number of people being ticketed today for driver 100 mph or faster is staggering; drinking and driving; and driving distracted.
Despite laws against each, there are too many drivers still intent on pushing the boundaries. Consider one of the fastest-growing dangers — texting behind the wheel. Although it has been against the law since 2010, think of how many violations you can see on almost any drive.
What’s troubling is the nonchalance with which some drivers are still willing to put not just their lives at risk, but also the lives of others who share the road with them.
No amount of technology can protect people from that. Until all drivers recognize the responsibility that rests in their hands, we will continue to be our own biggest danger.
— Jacksonville Journal Carrier, Illinois