Despite all the advances made in car safety thanks to technology in recent years, fatalities are up again across roads in the US, reports the New York Times.


Recent estimates released by the nonprofit National Safety Council paint a grim picture: 40,200 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, up six percent from the year before. This also marks the first time since 2007 that more than 40,000 people died on the country’s roads. A recovering economy has been identified as one potential cause of the hike, as more people are driving for pleasure and work.

Safety experts have also pointed to a sharp rise in distracting driving as a source. With more cars offering voice control and other features that can take a driver’s eyes off the road, it’s getting harder for people to resist the temptation to do something else while driving. A call for a ban on cellphone use while driving, even if the phone is hands-free, was part of the council’s recommendations with the report. They also recommended mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists and ignition locks for people who are convicted of drunk driving. The locks prevent someone from starting a car until they breathe into an attached mouthpiece and have their blood alcohol levels checked. These devices are often installed with cameras so officials can confirm who is breathing into them.

Some government officials and safety groups have another take, pointing to more lenient enforcement when it comes to speeding, drunk driving and seat belt regulations, along with a reluctance from lawmakers to pass tougher laws in those areas. The current patchwork of laws from state to state do leave areas where drivers can skip the seat belt and not face a ticket as a result. Currently, just 18 states have laws that require seat belts for people in the front and back seats. In 15 states, not wearing a seat belt in the front is just a secondary offense and one that drivers cannot be ticketed for unless they are being pulled over for another infraction. Around half of all traffic deaths do involve occupants without seat belts, and close to a third involved drivers who were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Speeding is yet another source of accidents involving death, according to the report. Highway speed limits have been rising across the country, partly to cope with congested areas. Texas, for example, now has speed limits of up to 85 miles per hour in a few rural areas. Around 1,500 miles of road across the US have a speed limit of at least 75 miles per hour.

As a result of this troubling trend, the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other agencies, including the National Safety Council, are working together to launch the “Road to Zero,” an initiative to help end deaths on the country’s roads within three decades.

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