Traffic deaths have been steadily declining since the 1970s when cars became safer, drunk driving was no longer shrugged off, and seatbelt laws began making the rounds. But in 2015, Oregon set a new record, and not in a good way. The state watched its rate of motor vehicle deaths shoot up 27% since 2014, the largest percent increase in 50 years, and over three times higher than the national average increase of 8%. According to the National Safety Council, cheaper gas and a stronger economy likely played a role making 2015 the deadliest driving year since 2008.
A Side By Side Analysis: 2014 and 2015
From September 2014 to September 2015, Oregon had 312 traffic fatalities compared to 238 fatalities the year before (September 2013- September 2014). Across the US, the National Safety Council estimates that 38,300 people were killed and 4.4 million injured on US roads. Of the 4 states that saw the biggest increase in traffic deaths last year, Oregon (27%), Florida (18%), Georgia (22%), and South Carolina (16%), Oregon had the highest increase despite safety initiatives. Portland car accidents are on the rise, with 37 fatalities in 2015 compared to 28 in 2014.
In 2015, motorcycle deaths increased 15% to 46 deaths in 2015 from 40 deaths in 2014. Pedestrian deaths also surged 64% to 54 deaths in 2015 from 33 in 2014. The National Safety Council attributes these large jumps to a stronger economy and falling gas prices. ODOT officials blame the usual factors such as speeding, drunk and distracted driving, and simply not wearing a seatbelt.
A Closer Look
According to Amy Joyce, ODOT’s legislative liaison, alcohol was involved in 101 of the 312 deaths last year. Due to modern seatbelt laws, most drivers and passengers use their seatbelts when the car is in motion, but in last year’s statistics, over 30% of the people who died were not using them. Speeding plays a factor in most fatal accidents as it increases the risk of death, especially on rural roads.
Distracted driving remains a serious threat on the road, with 60% of fatal crashes involving a car drifting from its lane probably from cell phone use or some other distraction. This goes to show that simply banning the use of cell phones does little to curb human behavior, as banning alcohol during the Prohibition era didn’t make people suddenly quit drinking. Changing our collective driving behavior is not as easy as enforcing blanket bans, although we hope banning bad behaviors will lead to fewer deaths.
With gas prices lower than ever, it is not really surprising that the number of fatalities have increased. Gas prices in 2015 were 28% lower than they were in 2014, and the lowest they have ever been since 2009. Along with this came a national 3.5% increase in miles traveled. Late 2015 estimates released by the National Highway Safety Administration reported a 3.5% rise and an increasing fatality rate, or number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, was also rising at a rate of 4.4%. As long as people can travel more miles for less, they will. By doing so, they increase their risk as they are driving additional miles to pursue leisure. These “optional” miles are typically driven on weekends as families take more outings or road trips.
How to Protect Yourself
Common sense goes a long way in creating an atmosphere of safe driving. If you should find yourself walking, cycling, or driving on Oregon roads, follow the rules of the road. That phone call or text message can wait.
When engaging in traffic on Portland roads, drivers should always:
- Wear a seatbelt
- Put the phone down
- Reduce speed and increase distance
- Designate a driver
- Consider a defensive driving course
- Call Rizklaw in the event of a collision.
Operating a motor vehicle is perhaps the most dangerous activity we do on a daily basis. The most you can do is control your own actions behind the wheel. Should an accident occur you always have the right to a personal injury attorney in Portland. Call Rizklaw at 503-245-5677 for a free legal consultation.