Traffic fatalities again increased in North Carolina, a trend of growing concern to safety watchdogs.
Last year, this state recorded 1,419 motor vehicle fatalities, up 11 percent from just two years ago, according to N.C. Department of Transportation data.
Furthermore, while North Carolina ranks as the ninth most populous state, it recorded the fifth most motor vehicle fatalities in 2016, according to data from the National Safety Council, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate preventable deaths.
Some of the increase can be attributed purely to more vehicle miles driven throughout the state. An increasing population mixed with an improving economy means the state’s roads simply see more chances for crashes.
"But the economy's not the full story," said National Safety Council’s Ken Kolosh, who leads the development of Injury Facts, an annual NSC statistical report on unintentional injuries, their characteristics and costs.
While slight, the fatality rate – measured as motor vehicle fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven – has increased in recent years in North Carolina. Rates in 2015 and 2016 were the highest in five years. Kolosh says distracted driving, particularly from people texting or using social media while on the road, is contributing to the increases in fatalities.
"What we've been seeing in the last several years, is drivers shifting from cell phone conversations – which were dangerous enough – to even more dangerous activities like texting and using social media and other apps," said Kolosh.
The NSC released a survey that showed drivers considered distracted drivers as the second most concerning traffic safety issue, behind only drunk drivers. Nearly three out of four survey respondents considered distracted driving a "major concern," while only 4 percent considered it "not a concern."
Decades of safety gains as it relates to drunken driving also seem to have reached a plateau. A full 10 percent of NSC survey respondents said they had driven a vehicle despite feeling that their ability had been impaired because of alcohol.
Safety advocates had hoped that ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft might help to reduce drunken driving incidents, but "Unfortunately we have not seen a benefit when it comes to decreasing deaths on our roads," said Kolosh.
Taking a broader perspective, however, still shows an overall positive picture. Overall deaths are well below levels even just a decade ago, and the fatality rate has dropped sharply.
"Particularly if you start back in the '70s, when our roads were truly unsafe, we are continuing to make progress for most of the years when it comes to number of deaths per miles driven, which has generally been going down historically," said Kolosh.