Traffic fatalities spike nationally for 2015

Traffic fatalities spike nationally for 2015
Photo credit: WDAM

PINE BELT (WDAM) - In 2015, traffic fatalities rose 7.2 percent compared to the previous year. That increase is the largest single-year increase in a half century.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 35,092 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2015, ending a five-decade trend of declining fatalities.

Locally, the city of Hattiesburg recorded 12 traffic fatalities in 2015. As of August 2016, there have been two in the Hub City.

Hattiesburg Police Lt. Jon Traxler said a number of things can lead to traffic crashes.

"It's all different kinds of things, and that's why we just ask the public to be mindful of their surroundings," Traxler said. "Slow down, pay more attention to their surroundings and not be distracted while driving, whether it's by texting, playing with the radio or just dealing with somebody else in the vehicle."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the White House has issued a call to action to involve a wide range of stakeholders in helping determine the causes of the increase.

NHTSA cited job growth and low fuel prices as two factors that led to increased driving, including increased leisure driving and driving by young people, resulting in more driving which can contribute to higher fatality rates.

In 2015, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 3.5 percent over 2014, the largest increase in nearly 25 years.

Traxler said grants and specific funding helps local departments combat the rising issue.

"The help of DUI grants, and things of that nature we are able to put saturation patrols out there as well as road blocks and things of that nature throughout holiday seasons," Traxler said.

NHTSA also said human factors continued to contribute to the majority of crashes, and almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.

According to NHTSA, research shows almost one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding and one in 10 fatalities involved a distraction.

"Aggressive enforcement of course, whether you get a courtesy citation or actual traffic citation, that is our big thing is having officers out there," Traxler said. "Whether that's having radar, watching stop signs, red lights, not necessarily sitting somewhere but patrolling the areas when they see something, stopping people in order to try to get people to slow down."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2016, the annual deaths could exceed 40,000 fatalities for the first time in nine years.