Worrying increases in traffic fatalities this year

50 Year Streak Broken

The first six months of this year have continued a trend that began last year and has ended an almost 50-year trend towards fewer highway traffic fatalities. January to June period experienced a 9 percent increase from last year and if that trend continues through the rest of 2016, could make 2016 the deadliest year in the last decade.

Deaths from motor vehicle crashes had been declining for most of the last 20 years. Cars have become much safer with many innovative safety features, roads have been engineered to be safer with wider lanes, fewer sharp curves, better lighting and wider shoulders. In addition, the nation's stricter drunk driving laws have helped to bring down the death toll from intoxicated drivers.

Improved Economy Causing Highway Fatalities

Other factors include high gas prices which were followed by the Great Recession, which caused people to drive fewer miles. In the last 18-months, that seems to have changed. Falling gas prices and improvements in the economy have produced significant increases in the number of miles Americans have driven, and this all combines to lead to more highway deaths in Maryland.

Raised Speed Limits May Be Cause Of Increase Fatalities

The overall trend had also made lawmakers complacent in Maryland and across the nation. Speed limits have been raised and there have been few aggressive safety initiatives beyond public service campaigns regarding texting and distracted driving.

Even those efforts seemed lukewarm, as some statistics suggested that there were only a few thousand deaths that could be tied to texting and other cellphone use.

Politicians tend to be unmoved to act by small numbers of crashes or fatalities.

The enactment of strong drunk driving legislation only became serious once it became clear that tens of thousands were dying every year. That crusade still has taken 30 years to produce significant results, with strict DWI laws now the norm and not the exception.

Sadly, with more than 19,000 in the first half of this year, the prospect of a year with nearly 40,000 dead on the highways may begin to force them to act.