Cellphones and raised speed limits stand behind sharp increase in traffic fatalities in US

© Mike Blake
The number of deadly car crashes in the US rose 14 percent and injuries went up by a third across the first half of 2015. Mobile phone usage behind the wheel and driving at high speeds are among the major contributors to the raised death rate.

A total of nearly 19,000 people across the US died in traffic accidents across the first six months of the year while more than 2.2 million were severely injured, according to data published by the National Safety Council.

A quarter of all accidents from previous years, which included fatal, injury-only and property damage-only crashes, happened because a driver was distracted by a cellphone.

The council estimates that texting-related crashes jumped from 5 percent to 6 percent while crashes involving drivers talking on cell phones remained at 21 percent.

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Among other hidden factors affecting the statistics were the favorable economic situation, lower unemployment and low gas prices which, as it turns out, encourage more and more Americans to buy and use their own vehicles.

"This generally means an increase in traffic; more people can afford to drive, and many travel longer distances and take vacations," said the council in a news release.

The report didn’t include numbers for July and August, two historically high months for traffic deaths. If the troubling trend doesn’t fall down, 2015 may turn into the deadliest driving year outstripping 2007 when more than 40,000 people died on roads.

“As a safety professional, it's not just disappointing but heart-breaking to see the numbers trending in the wrong direction,” the council’s president, Deborah A.P. Hersman said, as cited by Associated Press.

The council has published a number of recommendations for drivers concerned about their safety ranging from rather obvious to actually useful, and also provided a link to a website, named 'My Car Does What?', aimed at educating people on “the ever-changing world of car safety features”

Other safety watchdogs say the number of those who die in car crashes could be even higher if it was not for new, high-tech equipment, such as electronic stability control installed on modern vehicles. The hard line adopted by authorities in reference to driving under the influence has also helped as well as the order to always fasten seatbelts. Teen driving deaths are down.

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The six-months bill for traffic fatalities, injuries and property damage totals $152 billion – 24 percent higher than 2014.

"The increase is definitely troubling," Jonathan Adkins, executive director of Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, said. "But after such historic declines in recent years, it's not unexpected to see an upswing," he added.