Traffic Deaths Increased 7.2%: Alcohol-Related Fatalities Up 3.2%

Traffic deaths increased in the U.S. increased by 7.2% between 2014 and 2015. That’s a distressing increase. Overall increase in traffic fatalities were more than double the alcohol-related ones (3.2%).

Each and every traffic fatality is a tragedy. And those that involve alcohol are preventable tragedies. We need to continue efforts to reduce traffic deaths from all causes. Alcohol, drugs and distracted driving are all serious problems.

Traffic fatalities have recently bucked their long-term downward trend. And it’s easy to become discouraged. But we must not succomb.

The Big Picture

Remember this. In 1975, there were 44,525 traffic deaths. In 2015, there were 35,092. That’s a drop of 9,433 deaths.

It’s also good to remember another thing. During that same time period:

  • The population intraffic deaths increasedcreased from 215,973,199 to 321,773,631. That’s a 49% increase.
  • The number of traffic deaths per 100,000 people dropped from over 20 to 10.
  • The number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) dropped from 3.35 to 1.12. That’s a drop of 2/3 (67%).

The last point is very important. It takes into account all the other changes that were occurring. And it tells us that driving has become much safer over time.

Traffic Deaths Increased

There were 1.08 persons being killed for every 100 million miles traveled in 2014. (That rate was the lowest since NHTSA began collecting such data in 1975.) In 2015, it increased to 1.12 persons.

So overall deaths per 100 million VMT increased by about 3.7/100th of one person. Those for alcohol-related deaths went up by 1.6/100th of one person.

Implications of the Increase

What does this increase mean in terms of people killed? For one more person to die in a traffic accident, a 2.70 billion increase in VMT would need to occur. And, for one more person to die in an alcohol-related crash, a 6.25 billion increase in VMT would be needed.

Of course, it’s easy to forget that these statistics refer to real people. Each death brings grief to a number of survivors. This page is dedicated to the memory of  a randomly selected victims of a traffic crash. It’s six-year-old drunk driving crash victim Treyton Kilar.

Source:  NHTSA. Traffic fatalities up sharply in 2015. Washington: NHTSA, 2016.


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NHTSA. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Washington, NHTSA, n.d.

Vanderbilt, T. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us). NY: Knopf, 2008.