Metro

Mass. car crash deaths surge; experts blame distracted driving

Boston, MA - 5/1/2016 - A box of flowers sat at the scene of yesterday's fatal crash involving a duck boat and a woman riding a scooter in Boston, MA May 1, 2016. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff Topic: Reporter:
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
A box of flowers sat at the scene of a fatal crash.

Deaths from motor vehicle crashes rose last year in Massachusetts — and across the nation — continuing a troubling multiyear surge that experts believe is being fueled in part by more people driving while distracted by cellphones and other devices.

An estimated 399 people statewide were killed in vehicle crashes in 2016, according to the report, which was released Wednesday by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit created by Congress to promote safety.

That was 13 percent higher than the 354 killed in 2015, and 15 percent higher than the 348 people killed in 2014.

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Experts believe an improving economy and lower gas prices are contributing to the increase in deaths because they lead to more traffic, as more people commute to work and can afford to drive farther and take vacations.

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Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association of Southern New England, said that distracted driving has become a major component in the fatalities.

“In our society nowadays, we look at time spent in our vehicle as time to multitask,” she said.

Drivers are often distracted by using or looking at mobile devices and screens built into their vehicles’ dashboards, Maguire said.

Nationally, the report estimated, there were 40,200 driving-related fatalities last year, making it the deadliest year on the country’s roads since 2007, when there were about 41,000 deaths. The figure also marked a 6 percent increase from 2015 and a 14 percent increase from 2014, the most dramatic two-year spike in 53 years.

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The state’s highway safety director, Jeff Larason, called the rise in fatalities “troubling” and said state officials are “focused on driver distraction as the most problematic factor.”

He said the state plans to continue to run public-awareness campaigns to urge people not to drive while distracted.

Experts said other bad habits continue to contribute to vehicle deaths, including speeding, not using a seat belt (Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of seat-belt usage nationally), and driving while drunk or high.

Maguire of AAA said that the urge to engage in some risky driving behaviors — particularly to try to save time — may be stronger in New England than in other areas.

“We’re such a go-go productive society, and we’re very much in a hurry in New England so the temptation is very strong” to run a red light, speed, or text while driving, she said.

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And, our region has “a significant problem with gridlock and challenging weather [that] may make drivers more impatient and stressed than they may be in other places.”

“Drivers need to realign their priorities and they need to slow down and slow down not just their cars but the pace of their lives,” Maguire said.

Driving deaths by state
Figures are considered to be preliminary estimates.
State 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
TOTAL U.S. 40,200 37,757 35,398 35,369 36,415
Alabama 1,044 846 821 840 833
Alaska 84 65 71 50 59
Arizona 950 881 768 842 817
Arkansas 545 533 467 481 545
California 3,680 3,249 3,084 3,134 2,994
Colorado 605 545 465 465 466
Connecticut 307 283 249 276 262
Delaware 119 130 125 100 116
Dist. of Columbia 28 26 26 29 19
Florida 3,037 2,955 2,501 2,352 2,442
Georgia 1,540 1,394 1,145 1,158 1,182
Hawaii 119 94 99 105 125
Idaho 253 217 186 213 185
Illinois 1,078 1,017 910 999 952
Indiana 820 817 727 780 778
Iowa 403 320 319 317 362
Kansas 431 357 385 349 409
Kentucky 830 748 666 638 743
Louisiana 661 646 630 672 670
Maine 159 156 135 144 162
Maryland 490 508 438 455 498
Massachusetts 399 354 348 334 353
Michigan 1,064 982 893 952 932
Minnesota 398 409 358 376 385
Mississippi 670 645 605 606 571
Missouri 939 862 759 756 830
Montana 190 224 192 228 204
Nebraska 217 244 221 205 211
Nevada 327 326 285 260 258
New Hampshire 137 114 92 135 105
New Jersey 607 553 563 546 591
New Mexico 398 296 372 308 351
New York 953 - - - -
North Carolina 1,435 1,396 1,259 1,247 1,269
North Dakota 113 131 136 149 170
Ohio 1,129 1,105 1,011 994 1,113
Oklahoma 668 631 655 615 642
Oregon 495 446 350 314 333
Pennsylvania 1,189 1,205 1,215 1,211 1,311
Rhode Island 53 45 52 66 64
South Carolina 1,015 954 823 761 845
South Dakota 116 133 136 133 134
Tennessee 1,042 961 967 996 1,019
Texas 3,751 3,490 3,464 3,360 3,339
Utah 280 275 256 219 217
Vermont 64 57 44 70 77
Virginia 750 755 703 741 774
Washington 536 567 467 429 441
West Virginia 269 270 271 319 335
Wisconsin 592 561 498 530 601
Wyoming 112 145 149 87 120
SOURCE: National Safety Council

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrochele