WASHINGTON — As Americans prepare to hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday, the federal government reported the number of deaths from traffic accidents in the U.S. increased 8.1 percent in the first half of 2015.
"The increase in smartphones in our hands is so significant, there's no question that has to play some role," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in a Tuesday media conference call. "But we don't have enough information yet to determine how big a role."
Other causes for the spike may include lower gas prices, an increase in vehicle miles traveled in the first six months of 2015 and the absence of state laws that prohibit drivers from using handheld smartphones.
A preliminary report on traffic fatalities for the first half of 2015 shows that an estimated 16,225 people died in motor-vehicle crashes compared to 15,014 fatalities in the first half of 2014.
NHTSA also reported a decline in annual traffic deaths to 32,675 in 2014, for a record low of 1.07 deaths per million miles traveled.
Rosekind said NHTSA is planning a series of regional meetings next year to boost behavioral safety efforts, saying human factors are responsible for 94 percent of motor vehicle crashes.
AAA Travel forecasts 46.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday, a 0.6 percent increase over the 46.6 million people who traveled last year and the most since 2007.
Edmunds says: Some sobering statistics to keep in mind as you hit the road this holiday season.