While the U.S. saw an uptick in highway traffic fatalities in 2015, Kansas bucked the nationwide trend with a nearly equal decline.
According to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Kansas highway fatalities fell 7.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, and alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities fell 22.2 percent, one of the steepest declines in the country.
The Kansas numbers are tempered, however, by a 21 percent increase in traffic deaths so far this year. The Kansas Department of Transportation had tallied 262 traffic fatalities as of the end of August, versus 218 this time last year.
“Unfortunately, fatalities are up significantly so far this year,” said Richard Carlson, the state’s interim secretary of transportation, “so our focus is on why that’s happening and what we can do to reduce the number of fatalities on our highways.”
The U.S. saw a 7.2 percent increase in traffic fatalities in 2015, the largest year-over-year percentage increase measured since 1966, the year the U.S. Department of Transportation was created.
“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
7.2 percent Increase in U.S. highway fatalities in 2015
7.8 percent Decrease in Kansas highway fatalities in 2015
More than 35,000 people died on U.S. roads in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the highest number since 2008. That includes 355 fatalities in Kansas, down from 385 in 2014.
Kansas saw 84 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in 2015, down from 108 in 2014. Only Massachusetts, New Jersey and Utah saw steeper declines.
“While we were encouraged by the drop in alcohol-related and overall fatalities in 2015,” Carlson said, “it was no cause for celebration when 355 people still died on Kansas roads.”
In comparison, Missouri followed the national trend. The state recorded 869 highway fatalities in 2015, up 13.4 percent from 2014. Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities rose 9.3 percent in Missouri in 2015, and 3.2 percent in all 50 states.
U.S. highways are still relatively safer than in past years. According to NHTSA, nearly 43,000 road fatalities were recorded in 2005, 25 percent more than last year.
1.12 U.S. highway fatality rate per 100 million miles driven, 2015
5.30 U.S. highway fatality rate per 100 million miles driven, 1965
The fatality rate has vastly improved even as Americans have driven more miles. The government recorded 47,000 road fatalities in 1965, for a fatality rate of 5.30 per 100 million miles driven. Last year’s rate was 1.12 fatalities per 100 million miles driven.
The fatality rate in Kansas was 1.25 per 100 million miles driven in 2014, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
In contrast, 511 people were killed on Kansas highways in 2002, with a fatality rate of 1.77 per 100 million miles driven.
3.5 trillion Miles driven by Americans in 2015
According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a record 3.5 trillion miles last year, exceeding the previous high of 3 trillion in 2007.
NHTSA attributed the increase in driving to low gas prices and growth in the economy.
Increased enforcement of seat-belt and impaired-driving laws, combined with improved safety features on vehicles such as air bags and electronic stability control, have made driving safer. Road improvements over the years, especially in rural areas, also have helped.
Still, according to NHTSA, half of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seat belts. About 1 in 3 road fatalities involved drunken driving or speeding. One in 10 involved distractions, including mobile phones.
“While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement, “we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”