2016 may have been the deadliest year in nine years for people traveling the nation’s roadways, based on preliminary data from the National Safety Council. The early numbers also show an increase in Michigan auto accident deaths: there were 1,064 fatalities on the state’s roads in 2016, compared to 893 deaths in 2014 — an increase of 19 percent over the two-year period.
The NSC reports that, in 2016, some 40,200 people across the country died in auto accidents. It’s the first time in nine years that the annual death toll has exceeded 40,000. The NSC also reports that, in 2016, about 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention, resulting in an estimated cost to society of $432 billion.
So why the spike in auto accident deaths? The answer: risky driving behavior.
According to an NSC Driver Safety Poll, while 83% of drivers said they believe driving is a safety concern:
- 64% reported they are comfortable driving higher than the speed limit.
- 47% said they are comfortable texting, either manually or through voice controls.
- 13% indicated they are comfortable driving while impaired by marijuana.
- 10% said they are comfortable driving after they feel they’ve had too much alcohol.
Given this upward trend in auto accident fatalities, the NSC is calling for states to implement measures that would reduce the number of highway deaths. Some of these measures are:
- Mandate ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers and provide better education about the nature of alcohol impairment. Michigan currently requires ignition-interlock devices for persons convicted of a repeat drunk-driving offense, as well as for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of .17 (more than twice the legal limit).
- Extend laws banning all cell phone use, including hands-free, to all drivers and not just teen drivers. In 2016, state Rep. Martin Howrylak introduced House Bill 5867, which would have banned all persons from holding a portable electronic device while driving, including cell phones. The legislation never moved forward. Take note that this type of ban is already in place for young drivers, as a way to help prevent distracted driving among teenagers. Michigan teens with graduated licenses are not allowed to initiate or answer a cell phone call, or listen to or engage in verbal communication through a mobile device (there are some exceptions for emergencies).
- Pass or reinstate motorcycle helmet laws. In 2012, Michigan repealed its mandatory motorcycle helmet law. According to a recent study, 138 Michigan motorcyclists were killed in 2015 — the highest number since 1985. From 2000-2011, an average of just under 112 riders were killed in Michigan motorcycle accidents each year. But from 2012 (when the helmet repeal took effect) through 2015, that number jumped to 126 persons. During that same period, a similar study of motorcycle crash injuries found that, of 345 motorcycle accident victims brought to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, 10% of Michigan motorcyclists riding without a helmet died, compared to 3% who wore helmets. The study also found that riders not wearing helmets had more severe head injuries, spent more days in intensive care and more time on a ventilator.
The preliminary numbers from the NSC represent a dangerous and disturbing trend. It appears that motorists are becoming more complacent about their driving behavior and are more willing to engage in risky behavior behind the wheel, no matter what the consequences — something that does not bode well for their own safety, or the safety of other motorists.
If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle, motorcycle or semi-truck crash and need legal assistance, contact our Michigan auto accident attorneys today for a free consultation.