Although driving has been getting safer for years, there has been a recent spike in auto-related fatalities. An improved economy has more people on the road but other factors are in play.

I have written previously about the emergence of the autonomous vehicle and the long-term implications for the auto insurance industry.  Potential implications include fewer privately owned vehicles, fewer accidents, lower premiums and, of course, fewer individual auto insurance policies.

In the short-term, however, people are driving more, and getting into more (and more serious) accidents.  In February 2016, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) released data showing that US driving reached 3.148 trillion miles in 2015, passing the previous record of 3.003 trillion miles in 2007. As the USDOT release noted:  “For a sense of scale, 3.148 trillion miles is roughly the same distance as 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto”.

The increase in driving reflects a number of factors, including an improved economy, higher employment and lower gasoline prices.  Along with the increase in driving, however, there has been a notable increase in traffic-related fatalities.  While there has been a downward long-term trend in fatalities per 100 million miles driven – reaching a low of 1.05 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled or VMT in 2014 – there was a spike in auto-related fatalities in 2015.

Although the NHTSA has only released data for the first nine months of 2015, their figures show that an estimated 26,000 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes during that period, representing an increase of about 9.3 percent as compared to the 23,796 fatalities that were reported to have occurred in the first nine months of 2014. The NHTSA report stated that “The fatality rate for the first nine months of 2015 increased to 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 1.05 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first nine months of 2014. The third quarter of 2015 represents the fourth consecutive quarter with year-to-year increases in fatalities as well as the fatality rate”.

In my next blog, I will discuss one potential contributor to this rise in fatalities–the increase in “driving while distracted”, partly attributable to drivers using smart phones to text, check social media even send emails while on the road–and what insurance companies are doing about this growing problem.

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