In the first half of 2016, traffic deaths in the United States rose 10.4 percent compared with the same period in 2015.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the numbers on October 5, the New York Times reports. NHTSA noted that Americans drove about 50.5 billion more miles in the first six months of 2016 than in the first half of 2015, an increase of 3.3 percent.
Lower gas prices in recent months likely contributed to the increase in miles driven. But the increase in miles driven does not account for the rise in the number of deaths, according to the Times. There were 17,775 deaths in the first six months of 2016, up from 16,100 in the same period in 2015. Officials have not identified a specific cause for the most recent increase, the Times says. “It is too soon to attribute contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways,” NHTSA said. But beginning in the final months of 2014, the rate of fatalities has increased for seven consecutive quarters compared with the corresponding quarters of previous years.
At the same time as the release of the fatality figures, federal officials announced the “Road to Zero” coalition that aims to eliminate traffic deaths, including those that occur on sidewalks and bicycle paths, by 2046.
The Department of Transportation has commit $3 million over the next three years for grants to provide short-term help, such as promoting the use of seatbelts and installing rumble strips, according to the Times. Advanced technology, like driverless cars, is a prominent part of the long-term plans.
In September, the Obama administration announced new guidelines to encourage the development of new technology while maintaining strong safety oversight. Some officials have reservations about the idea that computer systems can operate vehicles more safely than humans can. Skeptical officials point to the crash of a Tesla Model S in June that killed the driver. The car was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash.