Miles traveled - and fatalities - are up in Illinois and nationwide
The figures are in, and Americans drove more miles last year than ever before.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, drivers across the United States drove about 3.15 trillion miles in 2015. That beats out the previous record set in 2007 by 150 billion.
Unfortunately, this increase in traffic leads to more than congestion. More cars mean more accidents, and traffic fatalities nationwide also showed an increase in 2015 following a decade and a half of steady decline.
While the final figures on fatalities in 2015 are not yet available, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that fatalities in the first nine months of 2015 showed a 9.3 percent increase over fatalities in the same portion of 2014.
Fatal crashes in Illinois matched the national trend precisely, with fatalities increasing by 9.3 percent from 924 in 2014 to 1,010 in 2015.
Human error remains the culprit in nearly all crashes
The sheer volume of traffic on the roads in 2015 doubtless had much to do with the increase in fatalities, but it's not the whole story. The leading cause of accidents remains, by far, human error. According to the NHTSA research, 94 percent of accidents happen due to human factors.
Risk factors such as drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving contribute to thousands of deaths in Illinois and nationwide. When drivers disobey traffic laws by breaking speed limits and failing to wear seatbelts, they put themselves and others at risk. More steps are also needed to protect pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, skaters and motorcyclists, who are disproportionately represented in traffic fatalities.
With the price of gas the lowest it's been in over a decade, motorists are taking to the road more than ever, which means an increase in several accident risk factors. Speeding, passing on the right and other reckless acts are becoming more common as motorists seek to get ahead in congested traffic. Moreover, additional driving means more wear and tear on the roads, even as public spending on transportation infrastructure drops - and dangerous conditions cause their share of accidents, especially at night or in inclement weather.
Congestion may contribute to some car accidents, but ultimately, motorists have a responsibility to adjust to the conditions and keep themselves and others safe. With more cars on the road than ever before, it's more important than ever to hold negligent motorists accountable when they cause injury.