The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said early estimates show a 9.3% increase in U.S. traffic deaths for the first nine months of 2015, announcing it Feb. 5 as NHTSA held the first in a series of regional "safety summits" with a day-long event in Sacramento, Calif.
Safety summits are meant to examine unsafe behaviors and human choices that contribute to increasing traffic deaths on a national scale, NHTSA said. It noted that human factors contribute to 94% of crashes, according to decades of NHTSA research.
NHTSA estimates that more than 26,000 people died in traffic crashes in the first nine months of 2015, compared with 23,796 fatalities in the first nine months of 2014. That puts 2015 on course to have the first rise in roadway deaths since 2012. Nationwide, the regional increases ranged from 2% to 20%.
The estimated increase in highway deaths followed years of steady, gradual declines. Traffic deaths declined 1.2% in 2014 and more than 22% from 2000 to 2014, NHTSA said. The 2015 increase is also pushing up the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, for the first time since 2012.
"We're seeing red flags across the U.S. and we're not waiting for the situation to develop further," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. "It's time to drive behavioral changes in traffic safety and that means taking on new initiatives and addressing persistent issues like drunk driving and failure to wear seat belts."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that for decades the U.S. DOT "has been driving safety improvements on our roads, and those efforts have resulted in a steady decline in highway deaths. But the apparent increase in 2015 is a signal that we need to do more."