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Traffic deaths have increased. Why?

Whenever someone is killed in a traffic crash, it is always a tragedy, but the concern grows bigger when deaths increase despite efforts to prevent them.

This is what happened in the first nine months of 2015, when the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported there was more than a 9 percent increase in traffic fatalities versus the same time period in 2014. In the last decade, 2012 was the only other year that saw an increase in traffic deaths over the previous year, when they rose 4 percent. Every other year saw a decrease.

Why did the number of traffic fatalities increase, and what can we do to stop them?

Why traffic fatalities happen: The statistics behind the tragedy

In order to attempt to get back on the right track and start to lower the amount of traffic deaths, it is important to understand why these accidents happen. While occasionally there may be a problem with the vehicle, such as faulty brakes or steering, NHTSA research reveals that some sort of human element plays a role in 94 percent of fatal crashes. Four of the most common of these include impaired driving, distracted driving, drowsy driving and aggressive driving.

Impaired driving

Driving while intoxicated from alcohol has been a consistent concern, and it is estimated that these crashes cost $37 billion each year. In 2012, nearly 10,000 fatal crashes involved an impaired driver, approximately 30 percent of all accidents.

Distracted driving

In 2014, more than 3,000 people were killed in accidents involving distracted drivers, accounting for around 10 percent of all fatal accidents. This is despite initiatives across the country to discourage the use of cell phones - especially text messaging.

Drowsy driving

Many people end up getting behind the wheel without enough sleep, and grabbing a quick cup of coffee is often not enough to prevent short bursts of sleep. That can have devastating consequences when a vehicle is traveling 55 mph or more.

While it is difficult to get definitive data involving drowsy driving, the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System estimates that there are more than 800 deaths each year that happen due to drowsy drivers. In NHTSA's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, it was revealed that being drowsy doubles a person's risk of making errors that may lead to a crash. Some of those most at risk include males age 18-23, those who sleep less than 6 hours a night, those who work a night shift, or inconsistent hours, and those with sleep disorders.

Aggressive driving

Aggressive driving happens when drivers are in an excessive rush to get to their destination and start to speed as a result, or when they drive when they are in an emotionally compromised state such as when they are angry or otherwise upset. The combination of going too fast, and their emotional distraction makes them less aware of their surroundings, and less equipped to avoid a crash.

Staying safe on the road

Everyone can do their part to prevent motor vehicle accidents and reduce the chance of injury or death when accidents do occur. Each driver can adjust their own behavior to reduce their own risk by driver sober, awake, and by putting cell phones or other distractions away when they are driving.

Passengers can be diligent about wearing their seatbelts or seeing that children are in child restraint seats. They can casually converse with the driver in order to keep them alert, and be a second set of eyes if a pedestrian or other unexpected obstacle appears. They can also entertain children, to help keep them from becoming a distraction as well.

If, despite precautions, you or a loved one is involved in a serious or fatal motor vehicle accident in California, seek the help of an experienced attorney.

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