Bertha, a mother of four and grandmother of two, never saw it coming. As she drove home on US Highway 290 in Houston, from out of nowhere a Ford F-150 came crashing down on her SUV. The driver had slammed into an impact barrier with such force, the truck went airborne. He and his passenger walked away with minor injuries. Bertha didn't. Four days later, her family attended her funeral.
But Bertha is just one more statistic in an alarming trend.
The first half of 2016 saw a 10.4 percent increase in traffic fatalities on American roads over the same period in 2015. The first six months of 2015 witnessed 16,100 deaths, while 17,775 deaths occurred the same six months of 2016. This represents the largest single-year increase since 1966, and is on pace to eclipse the 37,000 road fatalities that took place in 2008. In fact, since the final months of 2014, the rate of traffic fatalities has increased in seven different quarters compared with those of previous years. The states with the largest rates of increase are Vermont, Oregon, and New Hampshire.
Why are stats so high?
There is no easy answer to why deaths on the roadways are on the rise, but experts generally agree on a number of factors:
- A strong economy. Traditionally, traffic deaths decrease with a bad economy because high fuel costs and unemployment lead people to drive less. In fact, after the recession that followed the housing crisis in 2008, there were fewer traffic fatalities since the years immediately following World War II. Ironically, the recovering economy, lower unemployment, and lower gas prices have led more Americans to take to the roads - traveling more and taking more vacations - which is a contributing factor to the rise in fatalities. Gas prices were 16 percent lower in the first half of 2016 than the corresponding period in the previous year.
- Distracted driving. The National Safety Council estimates that a quarter of all accidents on American roads last year - 1.6 million - were the result of texting while driving. In fact, 25 percent of teens admit to responding to at least one text message every time they get behind the wheel. The true numbers, police estimate, are probably much higher.
- Recklessness. People are still careless behind the wheel. About 30 percent of traffic fatalities can be attributed to drunk driving or speeding.
- Laws lagging behind. There are still a number of states without strict laws governing the use of seatbelts, helmets for motorcyclists, and ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders. States continue to raise maximum speed limits as well, despite the increased risk of fatalities. Lax laws lead to more deaths.
Regardless of the reason, every traffic fatality is nothing less than a horrible tragedy. If you have lost a loved one in such an accident, an experienced attorney can help you get justice for the pain your family has endured. Your loved one isn't a statistic. A skilled lawyer can help you hold those responsible for the accident legally accountable.