2016 Deadliest Year on Roadways Since 2007

STORY BY BRAD LOFTIS, NAVAL SAFETY CENTER

The National Safety Council (NSC) identified 2016 as the most deadly year on the roadways since 2007. This is not news to anyone who received the Naval Safety Center’s quarterly report in December as our analyst h

Firefighting paramedics remove an injured motorist after an accident at the site of  a freeway pileup in northern Los Angeles County. A big-rig truck and nearly 20 cars collided on the freeway, leaving at least 17 people injured, including two critically, authorities said. (Photo by Rick McClure, AP, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Firefighting paramedics remove an injured motorist after an accident at the site of a freeway pileup in northern Los Angeles County. A big-rig truck and nearly 20 cars collided on the freeway, leaving at least 17 people injured, including two critically, authorities said. (Photo by Rick McClure, AP, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

ave already identified and reported the Navy spike in the document.

The council has released preliminary data showing that as many as 40,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. The figure is 6 percent higher than the number of fatalities in 2015 and marks a 14 percent increase from 2014 — the largest two-year spike since 1964. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that traffic deaths surged about 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016.

How does all of this compare to the Navy? The Navy saw a 78 percent increase from FY 2015 to FY 2016. This percentage may seem high but when looking only at the numbers of fatalities the Navy lost nine Sailors in FY 2015 and FY 2016 last year. The good news is the Navy’s fatality rate is consistently and considerably lower than that of the national average by almost 50 percent the last five years.

What is driving these numbers? An improving economy and low gas prices, which increase driving (e.g., going out on the weekends or taking long trips on unfamiliar roads) are all contributors. Additionally, “teens [with their high fatal crash rates] are also back on the road after the recession when many of them could not afford to drive as much,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Several other factors have been noted by the Safety Center analysts and NSC reports, which were summed up by the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, Jonathan Adkins, who stated “belts, booze and speed” are contributing to these deaths. However, this statement does not cover the newest element that has begun to plague our nation’s roads… distracted driving.

Distracted driving is not easily captured in mishap data, especially with fatalities due to the lack of firsthand accounts of events. Due to this issue and the fact that the Web-Enabled Safety System (WESS) does not specifically capture the distracted driving, the Safety Center analyst had to infer this through other items listed in the human (HFACS) portion of WESS (e.g., attention failures, timing errors, etc.).

Digging deeper into the HFACS levels provided more granularity into these distractions by listing specific driver actions (e.g., drifted out of lane [not due to falling asleep], did not keep eyes on the road, reacted too slowly etc.).

Each of these actions could have attributed to the operator being distracted. More in-depth data would need to be collected in WESS or NSC data files include possible use of a cell phone or texting as an unsafe act before a true determination of the extent of distracted driving on our roads could be made.

The bottom line is electronic devices are increasingly playing a roll in motor vehicle fatalities and their mitigation must be addressed in a more robust way.

Mr. Loftis is the Shore Safety Program Directorate, Traffic and Recreation, Off Duty Safety Division Head for the Naval Safety Center.

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National Safety Council

Naval Safety Center, Traffic Safety

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