ITASCA, Illinois — The U.S. is headed for the deadliest driving year since 2007, according to the National Safety Council.
The organization's latest data shows that traffic deaths for the first six months of 2015 are 14 percent higher than in the same period last year and serious injuries are up by 30 percent.
The NSC says that from January to June, traffic crashes were the cause of almost 19,000 fatalities, and if that pace continues through the end of the year, 2015 could be the most lethal year on the road since 2007 when, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 41,059 people were killed in crashes.
In addition to fatalities, more than 2.2. million people were seriously injured in vehicle crashes in the first half of this year, and the resulting costs are also up by 24 percent compared to 2014, totaling $152 billion through the first six months.
"Follow the numbers: The trend we are seeing on our roadways is like a flashing red light — danger lies ahead," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC, in a statement. "Be a defensive driver and make safe decisions behind the wheel. Your life really depends on it."
The rise in fatalities may be surprising in light of the latest design improvements and high-tech safety features being developed by automakers.
Many new vehicles have had equipment like airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and tire-pressure monitoring systems for a number of years. And features like back-up sensors and rearview cameras are becoming increasingly common.
But even much more sophisticated safety technology is now standard or available on a wide range of models.
For example, adaptive cruise control, which uses radar or laser sensors and automatic braking to maintain a safe distance between vehicles, is available on such models as the 2015 Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Honda CR-V and Mazda 3, in addition to many vehicles from luxury brands like Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.
And as previously reported by Edmunds, Toyota rolled out an available suite of advanced safety technologies on its 2015 models that includes such items as lane-departure alert, a pre-collision system designed to stop a vehicle before a crash occurs, and a new pedestrian-detection function.
Which begs the question: With all of this technology helping keep us safe, why are an increasing number of Americans being killed or injured in highway crashes?
For one thing, as reported by Edmunds, the average age of light vehicles on the road in the U.S. has now reached a record high of 11.5 years. So not everyone is benefitting from the latest safety features.
Another issue is distracted driving, which is on the rise. According to Distraction.gov, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013, a 6.7 percent increase over 2012.
And those two factors are compounded by an increase in the number of miles being traveled on the nation's roads. The NSC notes that Americans are taking more vacations and putting more miles on their vehicles due, in part, to an improving economy and lower fuel prices.
To help ensure road safety, the NSC recommends taking such steps as making sure everyone in the vehicle wears a seatbelt, designating an alcohol- and drug-free driver, never using a cell phone behind the wheel (even a hands-free phone) and avoiding fatigue while driving.
Finally, the NSC stresses the importance of understanding as much as possible about your vehicle's safety systems.
The organization suggests that consumers visit MyCarDoesWhat.org, a new website from the NSC and the University of Iowa, that is designed to help educate consumers about the latest vehicle safety technologies through clear, concise explanations, infographics and entertaining videos.
Edmunds says: Consumers looking for more information about vehicle safety should also take a look at the Edmunds.com Car Safety page.