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As Americans Hit the Road for the Holidays, Feds Warn of Surge in Fatalites

BANGOR, Maine - As millions of Americans embark on holiday travel this weekend, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that road fatalities have surged.

The federal agency says preliminary data show that fatalities were up last year by nearly 8 percent over the the year before, making 2015 the deadliest road year since 2008.

In Maine, the story is similar. Last year, the state experienced 156 fatalities, "and that compared to 131 back in 2014," says Duane Brunell, from the Safety Office of the Maine Department of Transportation.

Brunell says one major contributor to the numbers came from motorcycle accidents, which jumped from 10 in 2014 to 32 in 2015. He says it's hard to pin a single cause to the upsurge in fatalities, but he says in Maine, most fatal crashes occur not on highways, but on back roads, where weather, speed, passing on curves, animals, and distraction all play a role.
"If there is a fatality, it usually involves going off the road or into a head-on collision," Brunell says.

Federal authorities say an improved economy and more affordable gas also contribute to the statistics; their data suggest that in a depressed economy people drive less.

Americans drove a record 3.1 trillion miles last year. Maine has experienced 60 fatalities so far this year, a number Brunell at MDOT says will likely spike in the coming months.