For the second year in a row, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported the largest leap in year-to-year traffic fatalities in 50-years.

Preliminary data released by the administration show an eight percent increase in traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2016, compared to a 7.2 percent spike during the same period in 2015. The last time there was such a large single-year increase was in 1966.

Although U.S. roads are significantly safer than they were years ago, safety officials want to halt this increasing trend.

Many attribute the increase in recent years to an improved economy and lower gas prices. However, while traffic fatalities increased by eight percent, total vehicle miles traveled increased only three percent during the same time period.

The increase in traffic fatalities also comes at a time when automakers are incorporating more sophisticated safety technology than ever, such as automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.

The NHTSA also noticed significant regional differences in fatality rates. The six states that make up the New England region saw a 20 percent increase in traffic fatalities over the previous year, while North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada saw a one percent increase. The region that includes Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia increased four percent.

Officials attribute the increase to three leading factors:

  • Almost half of the deaths involved passengers not wearing seat belts
  • Approximately 30 percent of deaths involved speeding or a drunken driver
  • Distracted driving contributed to 10 percent of deaths

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