Study finds increased traffic deaths are downside to improving economy

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RUCKERSVILLE—A new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that an increase in traffic deaths is a predictable downside to an improving economy.

Road deaths have been trending downward since the early 1970s, with an especially large dip starting in 2008. However, that changed in 2015 with deaths increasing 7 percent over the previous year, according to the IIHS.

“It is disheartening to hear that highway deaths have increased, especially during a time of economic prosperity,” said Darlene Wells, executive vice president and general manager of the Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., which is a member of IIHS. The institute is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses from crashes on the nation’s roads. It is wholly supported by auto insurers and insurance associations.

“We support the work that IIHS and other similar organizations are doing to educate the public about vehicle and highway safety and to teach drivers how they can decrease their chances of getting in an accident,” Wells shared.

The reason traffic deaths increase when the economy improves and unemployment rates decline is because people tend to drive more, IIHS reported.

“Riskier, discretionary driving—for example, going out to dinner or traveling for vacation—is affected by economic fluctuations even more than day-to-day commuting,” explained Charles Farmer, IIHS vice president for research and statistical services. “Economic conditions also affect how fast people drive.”

He added that the recent surge in crash avoidance technologies, along with the development of autonomous vehicles that could eliminate all crashes, has the potential to bring down crash rates. However, it will take decades before such technologies are present in all new vehicles.

“Improvements in vehicle technology are important, but we also need to address old problems such as speeding and driving while impaired,” Farmer pointed out.

For more information, visit

Media: Contact Russ Rader, IIHS vice president of communications, at 703-247-1530.

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