Accompanying the improving U.S. economy has been an unwanted increase in the number of fatal automobile crashes.
AAA’s Midwest Traveler magazine for March/April reports that the unemployment rate falling below 5 percent the last two months nationally, and 4.3 percent in Missouri, has resulted in more people commuting to work and an increase in auto-related fatalities.
The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate for February was 4.9 percent the same as it was in January. The U.S. economy added 242,000 jobs.
Job growth also was strong in December and January. The last time the national jobless rate was 4.9 percent was in February 2008 in the midst of the Great Recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009. The slow U.S. economic recovery caused the unemployment rate to linger at a high rate for a lot longer than expected.
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“While national figures for 2015 were not available at press time, most states in the Midwest have found that fatal crashes climbed significantly last year,” the magazine reports. “The increases represent a troubling departure from a general downward trend in fatalities in recent years, safety officials say.”
The magazine also pins the trend on the price of gasoline falling throughout 2015. Gas prices had fallen below $1.30 a gallon in the Kansas City area.
However, in the last two weeks that appears to be reversing with prices at the pump this week rising above $1.70 a gallon for regular. The price of crude oil rising above $30 a barrel has fueled the increase in gas prices.
AAA Midwest Traveler reports that Missouri ended 2015 with 853 deaths on the road, which was an increase of 11 percent from 2014. Illinois recorded 1,020 fatalities in 2015, which was an increase of 10 percent. Although Illinois recorded a higher number of fatalities than Missouri did, it had a similar percentage increase.
Indiana was similar to Missouri in its fatality count and percentage increase. Indiana had 829 fatalities on its roads, which was an 11 percent increase.
Kansas, however, was different. Traffic deaths in the Sunflower State fell 7.5 percent to 356 in 2015.
Kansas has a maximum highway speed limit of 75 mph. The state Legislature wants to increase that to 80 mph on designated highways.
Six states — Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Idaho— already have an 80 mph speed limit in rural areas. Texas is worse with a speed limit of 85 mph in some areas.
Driving faster will cause motorists to burn more fuel, generate more global warming, greenhouse gas pollution, and cause more wear and tear on vehicles, resulting in them not lasting as long and potentially being more hazardous with more people suffering injuries and deaths.
The AAA Midwest Traveler article urges motorists who want to get to their destination and return home safely to avoid distractions, which these days means don’t text or hold cellphone conversations and drive. Cellphones may have made pay phones and phone booths obsolete, but automobiles are hardly the place for drivers operating 2,000-pound vehicles or more to use smartphones to do dumb things behind the wheel.
People should always wear their seat belts. For a lot of folks, that’s easier said than done. They are in a hurry to get somewhere and forget to buckle up. That always is a big, potentially fatal mistake.
The magazine also advices people to never drive impaired on alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications and over-the-counter meds. People know this, but too often don’t abide by it.
However, they should in order to keep the roads safe for themselves and for everyone.