After declining for most of the past decade, traffic deaths spiked 8 percent in the first half of this year, prompting a call from the nation's highway safety chief to find ways to reduce the human errors that cause most fatalities.
The new estimate released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration comes just as millions of Americans prepare to hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. AAA predicts that 42 million people will drive 50 miles or more over the coming weekend.
Officials released a final number of fatal crashes for 2014, which showed a decline of 0.1 percent. This year, lower gas prices and an improving economy are prompting people to travel more.
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But NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said that not all of the increase could be attributed to people driving more miles. He suspects that texting and other distractions while using smartphones was part of the cause, as well as drunken, drugged and drowsy driving and increased driving by teenagers.
The slight drop in 2014 traffic deaths came after a decade that saw a 25 percent decline due to fewer miles driven, safer cars and public awareness of the dangers of drunken driving.