Cheap gas may be killing us

Tens of thousands of people die every year in the US in automobile accidents. But 2015 was especially bad.

Last year 35,092 people died in traffic accidents, a 7.2% increase year over year, according to data published recently by the National Highway Traffic Administration. In fact, the percentage spike in traffic deaths last year was the biggest percentage increase in almost 50 years.

Cars today have more safety features than ever before. So why the spike in traffic deaths?

In short, it’s because our economy is improving — or at least that’s what the NHTSA is blaming it on.

Job growth and low fuel prices have lead to more people being on the road, the NHTSA said in a statement. In fact, vehicle miles travelled in the US increased 3.5 per cent in 2015, which is the largest increase since 1992, government data shows.

Falling gas prices have surely contributed to this trend. After all, the average price of gasoline per gallon has decreased about $1.30 since 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That’s a dramatic price drop that has likely spurred more people to take to the road, especially young drivers who are already on a budget.

According to the EIA, gas prices are expected to stay low through 2016 and 2017, which could mean an even bigger jump in traffic-related deaths.

In fact, the National Safety Council said last week that preliminary data shows that there has already been a 9% increase in traffic deaths during the first six months of 2016 than there was during the first half of 2015.

While more people on the road is definitely a contributing factor for more accidents, it’s only one part of the equation.

NHTSA’s data shows that one-third of fatal crashes in 2015 can be blamed on drunk driving and about 30% of the fatal accidents involved speeding. What’s more, one half of those killed were not wearing their seatbelt.

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