The number of people who died in auto accidents reached 35,092 last year, according to newly released figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That figure is a 7.2% increase from 2014. The last time there was such a large single-year increase was back in 1966.
Officials say the number of traffic fatalities was actually 25% higher a decade ago, when 42,708 people died on the road. But the number of deaths had been declining because of increased use of seat belts, fewer drunk drivers, and vehicle improvements such as air bags and electronic stability control.
Officials say the increase last year can be attributed to more people driving. Job growth and lower fuel prices factor in, and motorists are covering more ground.
"In 2015, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 3.5% over 2014, the largest increase in nearly 25 years," according to NHTSA.
Officials attribute the increase in traffic fatalities to three main causes: almost half of the deaths came when passengers were not wearing seat belts; about 30% of fatalities involved a drunk driver or speeding; distracted driving was a factor in about 10% of auto deaths.