U.S. traffic deaths spiked in 2016, including pedestrians killed

WASHINGTON (AP) - Traffic fatalities rose 5.6 percent traffic fatalities last year, with even bigger spikes in pedestrian and motorcyclist deaths, the government said Friday.

There were 37,461 people killed on U.S. roads in 2016 as Americans continue to drive more, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The fatality rate was 1.18 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a 2.6 percent increase from the previous year.

Traffic deaths have been increasing since late 2014, as gas prices have fallen and people started driving more. In 2016, the total number of miles driven in the U.S. rose 2.2 percent.

Pedestrian deaths hit their highest level since 1990, with 5,987 people killed. That figure represents a 9 percent increase since the previous year.

Motorcyclist deaths were up 5.1 percent, reaching their highest level - 5,286 killed - since 2008. Together, they accounted for more than a third of the increase in fatalities compared to 2015.

As traffic deaths climb, "we must not forget that the risks we are all facing extend to the sidewalks too," said Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council. "Everyone deserves safe passage, and these numbers are yet another indication that we must do more to keep each other safe."

Bicycle deaths increased only slightly, 1.3 percent, but were at their highest number - 840 killed - since 1991.

Deaths related to distracted and drowsy driving declined. Those declines were more than offset by other dangerous behaviors, including speeding, alcohol impairment and not wearing seat belts, the safety administration said.

Traffic deaths declined significantly during the Great Recession and during the economic recovery as Americans cut back on their driving. Increased seat belt use, reductions in alcohol impairment, and improved auto safety equipment like air bags and electronic stability control also contributed to the decline.

Large increases in fatalities last year and the year before reduced the improvement over the past decade in the annual number of people killed by more than a third.

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy

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