More people dying in car crashes, but not in Kansas

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers investigate where a car collided with a pedestrian bridge pillar on southbound I-135.
Kansas Highway Patrol troopers investigate where a car collided with a pedestrian bridge pillar on southbound I-135. File photo

While the U.S. saw an uptick in highway traffic fatalities in 2015, Kansas bucked the nationwide trend with a nearly equal decline.

According to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Kansas highway fatalities fell 7.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, and alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities fell 22.2 percent, one of the steepest declines in the country.

The country saw a 7.2 percent increase in traffic fatalities, the largest year-over-year percent increase measured since 1966, the year the U.S. Department of Transportation was created.

“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

More than 35,000 people died on U.S. roads in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the highest number since 2008. That includes 355 fatalities in Kansas, down from 385 in 2014.

Kansas saw 84 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in 2015, down from 108 in 2014. Only Massachusetts, New Jersey and Utah saw steeper declines.

U.S. highways are still relatively safer than in past years. According to the NHTSA, nearly 43,000 road fatalities were recorded in 2005, 25 percent more than last year.

The fatality rate has vastly improved even as Americans have driven more miles. The government recorded 47,000 road fatalities in 1965, for a fatality rate of 5.3 per 100 million miles driven. Last year’s rate was 1.12 fatalities per 100 million miles driven.

The fatality rate in Kansas was 1.25 per 100 million miles driven in 2014, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

In contrast, 511 people were killed on Kansas highways in 2002, with a fatality rate that year of 1.77 per 100 million miles driven.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a record 3.5 trillion miles last year, exceeding the previous high of 3 trillion in 2007.

The NHTSA attributed the increase in driving to low gas prices and growth in the economy.

Increased enforcement of seat belt and impaired-driving laws, combined with improved safety features on vehicles, such as air bags and electronic stability control, have made driving safer. Road improvements over the years, especially in rural areas, have helped.

Still, according to the NHTSA, half of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seat belts. About one in three road fatalities involved drunken driving or speeding. And one in 10 involved distractions, including mobile phones.

“While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement, “we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities.”

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis