The United States appears to have crossed a dreaded milestone: 40,000 deaths on its roads in a single year.
The National Safety Council released estimates Wednesday that 40,200 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. It would be the first time that more than 40,000 people died on U.S. roads since before the Great Recession.
The estimate is a 6% increase in deaths from 2015, and the council pointed to low gas prices and an improving economy as contributors to the uptick.
The figures are likely not a surprise to traffic safety experts, as traffic deaths have risen dramatically in recent years. In 2015, the United States saw the largest increase in traffic deaths in 50 years — 7.2% from the prior year. And earlier this year, the federal government projected 2016’s numbers would continue the trend, with another major spike.
U.S. roads are still significantly safer than decades ago. But traffic safety advocates are concerned with the recent uptick and have suggested interventions such as cracking down on distracted driving and drunken driving.
The National Safety Council also estimated the cost of traffic deaths, injuries and property damage was $432.5 billion in 2016.
The council cautioned its estimate of 40,200 deaths is provisional and may be revised as more data emerges.