A total of 263 motorists died on Arkansas roads in the first six months of 2016, up 11 percent from the same period a year ago and helping fuel a national trend that, if unchecked, will see traffic fatalities in the United States exceed 40,000 for the first time in nine years, according to preliminary figures from the National Safety Council.
Graphs showing motor vehicle deaths.
Nationally, the federally chartered nonprofit organization estimated that 19,100 people have been killed on U.S. roads from January to the end of June, 9 percent more than at the six-month mark in 2015.
Another 2.2 million were estimated to be seriously injured, with the cost of all those deaths and injuries estimated at $205 billion, the council said.
The estimates, which continue an upward trend that began in 2014, prompted the council to predict 438 people will die on U.S. roads during the three-day Labor Day weekend, the highest fatality estimate the organization has issued for the holiday since 2008.
"Our complacency is killing us," Deborah A.P. Hersman, the council president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "One hundred deaths every day should outrage us. Americans should demand change to prioritize safety actions and protect ourselves from one of the leading causes of preventable death."
The council, which has compiled the statistics annually since 1921, cited an improving economy and low fuel prices as factors in the rising number of road fatalities.
"While many factors likely contributed to the fatality increase, a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are at the core of the trend," the organization said. "Average gas prices for the first six months of this year were 16 percent lower than 2015 levels, helping to fuel a 3.3 percent increase in the number of miles driven."
Federal Highway Administration data back up that assertion. U.S. driving reached 1.58 trillion miles in the first six months of 2016, beating the previous record of 1.54 trillion miles set last year. The agency said 1.58 trillion miles is about the equivalent of 250 round trips from Earth to Pluto.
In June alone, U.S. motorists racked up 283.3 billion miles, a slight increase from June 2015, the federal agency said. Arkansas motorists drove 1.039 million miles in June, a 3.2 percent increase over the same month last year.
"Travel is setting a record every month," said Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA, the national auto travel club, for the region that includes Arkansas. "Every month, we're traveling more than the month before."
The pace for traffic deaths in Arkansas in the first six months hasn't abated since the end of July. Through Tuesday, 303 reported crashes on Arkansas roadways have led to 337 deaths, according to preliminary crash data posted on the Arkansas State Police website. Of those crashes, 27 were double-fatalities, two were triple-fatalities and one resulted in four deaths. The remaining 273 crashes were single-fatality accidents.
Of the 303 crashes, 122 were on interstates or U.S. highways, according to the data. The others were on state highways, county roads or city streets.
There were 34 fatal crashes in January, 30 in February, 40 in March, 37 in April, 50 in May, 46 in June, 35 in July and 31 so far in August.
The council's safety recommendations to motorists include mostly tips for the driver: Make sure passengers use their seat belts, designate alcohol- and drug-free drivers, get plenty of sleep and take breaks to avoid fatigue, never use a cellphone and monitor teen driving habits as teens are three times more likely to crash than experienced drivers.
Drivers also should be familiar with, and use, their vehicle safety systems, such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning systems and backup cameras, the council said.
If the trend found in the first half of the 2016 remains through the rest of year, "total motor vehicle fatalities in 2016 could possibly exceed 40,000 for the first time in nine years," the council said.
But Right said the increase in fatalities statewide over the past two years came after a 10-year decline that saw annual roadway deaths fall from 652 in 2005 to 466 in 2014.
"Are we seeing a statistical anomaly or a trend?" he said. "That's difficult to say."
Metro on 08/24/2016
Print Headline: State's roadway fatalities rise 11%