US Roadways on Track for Deadlier 2015 After Record Low Fatalities in 2014, Feds Say

PHOTO:Traffic backs up on the Kennedy Expressway as commuters and holiday travelers try to get an early start on their Thanksgiving travel in this file photo, Nov. 27, 2013, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Traffic backs up on the Kennedy Expressway as commuters and holiday travelers try to get an early start on their Thanksgiving travel in this file photo, Nov. 27, 2013, in Chicago.

American roadways saw a small decline in traffic deaths in 2014, but National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind warned today that the number is expected to rise in 2015.

Last year saw a record low fatality rate of 1.07 deaths per million miles traveled, since FARS -- the Fatal Analysis Reporting System -- began in 1975, according to new U.S. Department of Transportation data released today.

However, projections for the first half of 2015 show that an estimated 16,225 people died in car crashes. This is an increase of about 8.1 percent as compared to the first half of 2014, according to the DOT.

“These numbers are troubling,” Rosekind said during a conference call with reporters today. “It really is time for our nation to get serious about the epidemic of death that is on our roadways.”

When asked why the downward trend may be reversing, he said, “nobody knows at this point.” He suggested it may be a result of more drivers on the road, partially due to lower gas prices.

Rosekind offered another statistic to encourage drivers to operate their vehicle more safely: 94% of car crashes are due to human error and human decision.

“The increase in smartphones in our hand is so significant,” Rosekind said. “There's no question that has to play some role.”

And he’s asking people to help get the word out.

“Don't drink and drive, put the cell phone down, wear your seatbelt, don't speed or drive recklessly. Your life and the lives of people you care about depend on it," he said.

Half of those who die in traffic accidents were not restrained at the time of the crash, Rosekind noted. NHTSA is pushing for expanded national seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws.