Traffic deaths surged about 8 percent in the first nine months of last year, continuing an alarming upward spiral that began in late 2014, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates released Friday.
The sharp increase comes at the same time Americans are putting more miles on the road than ever, the government said. But the rise in deaths is outpacing the increase in travel. Vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2016 rose about 3 percent.
Experts believe the increased travel is mostly a result of an improved economy and low gas prices.
There were 1.15 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2016, up from 1.10 fatalities during the same period in 2015.
The increase in deaths is especially concerning because it happened at time when automakers are beginning to equip more cars with sophisticated safety technology like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency-braking and blind-spot monitoring. Nearly all new cars now have electronic stability control and rearview cameras.
But there are also trends that are difficult to measure, such as increased use of cellphones and other mobile devices behind the wheel.