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Study: Traffic deaths down slightly in 2017, still up over 2015

The National Safety Council, a nonprofit that has tracked traffic injury and fatality trends for nearly 100 years, has released its preliminary numbers for the first half of 2017. There's good news and there's bad news.

The good news is that the group observed about a 1-percent drop in the traffic fatality rate this year over the first half of 2016. The bad news is that the rate remains 8 percent higher than it was in the same period of 2015. Unfortunately, 2016's tally represented a substantial jump over the two previous years.

According to the NSC, some 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads in 2016. That was a 6-percent jump over 2015 and the biggest two-year jump since 1964. So far this year, an estimated 18,680 people have been killed on our nation's roadways. That's fewer than last year, but still far higher than in 2015.

Unfortunately, the NSC says that the second half of the year tends to be deadlier than the first half.

In addition to the 18,680 people the group estimates have been killed in traffic crashes this year, another 2.1 million have been seriously injured. The group estimates the cost of those deaths and injuries, in financial terms, to be about $191 billion. Naturally, that number doesn't begin to get at the human cost of these losses.

What factors may have influenced the increases in traffic accidents and fatalities over the past few years? The NSC points to an increase in miles driven. The average U.S. driver drove about 1.7-percent more miles in 2017 than in 2016, for example. A better economy and lower gas prices may have fueled the increase in miles driven.

Although it's important to keep these statistics, what the NSC and other safety groups are really aiming for is change in the American relationship with the road and other drivers. How can we continue to allow so many people to be injured and killed on our roads?

"The price of our cultural complacency is more than a hundred fatalities each day," said the nonprofit's president and CEO. "Although the numbers may be leveling off, the Road to Zero deaths will require accelerating improvements in technology, engaging drivers and investing in our infrastructure."

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