Deadly vehicle crashes spiked in the USA for a second straight year in 2016, hitting a nine-year high despite the adoption of new safety features and investments in partially self-driving cars.
Key reasons: speeding, not wearing seat belts and a rise in motorcycle deaths.
Car accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6% from 2015, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data released Friday.
The disastrous upward trend marks a reversal after fatalities fell in six of the seven years from 2007 to 2014. Deaths are up from an all-time low of 32,744 in 2014.
Though vehicle safety technology is better than ever, other factors have contributed to the deadly increase.
In previous years, distracted driving was a growing culprit. In 2016, distracted driving deaths fell 2.2% to 3,450, according to the NHTSA.
The increase in deaths in 2016 was largely attributable to other mistakes by drivers and passengers, including a 4% increase in speeding deaths and a 4.6% increase in fatalities due to unbelted passengers. The NHTSA reported a 5.1% increase in motorcycle deaths.
Another trend was a 9% jump in pedestrian deaths. Drunken driving deaths rose 1.7%.
In some crashes, multiple factors were blamed.
The NHTSA said it “continues to work closely with its state and local partners, law enforcement agencies” and others “to help address the human choices” that are blamed for 94% of serious crashes.
The trends underscore why the federal government and automakers push for self-driving vehicles. In 2016, the Obama administration set a goal of eliminating roadway deaths within 30 years, expecting self-driving cars to play a key role.
The last year in which crash deaths were higher was 2007, when 41,259 were killed.
Safety advances such as automatic emergency braking, rearview cameras, lane departure warning and advanced air bags have helped improve car safety.
Other features have been blamed for increasing distraction. An AAA study released Thursday blamed vehicle touchscreen systems for allowing drivers to use the systems while in motion.