Traffic deaths increased for second consecutive year in 2016

October 12, 2017

Tyson Fisher


Official traffic fatalities numbers for 2016 have been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the numbers reflect what most expected: fatalities increased compared with 2015.

A total of 37,461 people were killed last year on the nation’s roadways, a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year. That is nearly 2,000 more people killed on the roadways. Vehicle miles traveled increased by 2.2 percent to 3.16 trillion miles. There were 1.18 deaths per 100 vehicle miles traveled in 2016, a 2.6 percent increase from 2015.

Despite perceptions of increased distracted driving from using mobile devices, the number of distracted driving deaths went down last year by 2.2 percent. The number of death caused by drowsy driving also declined in 2016, down 3.5 percent.

However, all other major categories for fatal crashes increased, including relatively large spikes in motorcyclist (5.1 percent) and pedestrian deaths (9 percent). According to a U.S. Department of Transportation news release, motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths accounted for more than a third of the year-to-year increase.

Unbelted deaths increased by 4.6 percent, speeding-related deaths up by 4 percent, drunk driving fatalities increased by 1.7 percent and bicycle deaths went up by 1.3 percent.

Broken down by vehicle type, van occupant deaths experienced a significant increase of 8.4 percent. Pickup truck occupant deaths increased by 1.5 percent, the smallest increase among passenger vehicle types.

Although fatalities are up year-to-year, traffic fatalities have been trending downward over the past decade. In 2015, fatalities went up 8.4 percent, the largest year-to-year percentage increase in more than 50 years. More than 41,000 deaths were reported in 2007.

Increases were seen in 2012, 2015 and 2016, with low fuel prices and higher employment partly responsible for roadway fatality increases the past two years. The past two years have brought continued the 10-year downward trend, dropping from 21 percent to 9 percent.

There were 4,317 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks, 5.4 percent more fatalities than in 2015, the highest since 2007. However, large truck crash deaths accounted for less than 12 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Age demographics at the lower end and the higher end reveal significant increases. Fatalities with drivers in the 16-24 age group increased by 9.4 percent. For drivers 65 and up, fatalities went up by nearly 10 percent. Over the past decade, fatalities involving older drivers have surpassed fatalities involving younger drivers. This is consistent with the aging baby boomer population.

State by state, New Mexico had the worst year, with a 34.9 percent increase in overall fatalities, followed by Alaska at 29.2 percent. Conversely, roads were a safer in Wyoming with a 22.8 percent reduction in traffic deaths, followed by Montana with 15.2 percent fewer roadway fatalities. Compared with 2015, 38 states experienced an increase in traffic deaths in 2016.


Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.