A grim turning point, long expected, may not have arrived in 2015 after all.
Public-health officials and statisticians had pinpointed last year as the year that gun deaths would likely surpass traffic fatalities in the United States.
But the latest projections from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paint a different picture, one that’s no less disturbing. New data shows traffic deaths jumped by more than 9 percent during the first nine months of 2015, the most recent period for which information is available. What that means: More than 2,000 additional people died in traffic accidents in the United States compared with the same period the year before.
The latest numbers suggest cars were on pace to kill nearly 36,000 people in 2015, significantly more than the 32,675 traffic deaths in 2014.
Firearms, meanwhile, killed 33,599 people in 2014, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data. Experts had expected traffic deaths to dip below 33,000 last year, but that now appears unlikely. The NHSTA says it’s too soon to speculate on factors contributing to the “significantly higher” traffic fatality rates last year.
Lower gas prices are one possible reason. When gasoline is cheaper, people drive more—and more time on the road translates into more fatal accidents. That may help begin to explain what happened last year, but only partially. Americans logged about 80 billion extra miles in the first nine months of last year, a 3.5-percent increase compared with the year before. But traffic deaths went up by 9 percent. (We won’t know how many people were killed in motor-vehicle accidents throughout all of 2015 until next fall, when the final federal data is released.)