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Booming economy blamed for surge in traffic accident deaths

Falling energy prices and favorable economic conditions have led to an increase in vehicular traffic in West Virginia and around the country. More Americans on the nation's roads means more traffic accidents, and fatal crashes have increased alarmingly after decades of steady decline. Economists believe that new jobs will continue to be created and fuel prices will remain low, and this has road safety advocacy groups worried.

When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that driver death rates had fallen by almost a third in just three years, it gave much of the credit to car makers and improvements in vehicle design. However, more recent studies have revealed that driver fatalities are on the rise despite significant advances in automotive safety technology. Motor vehicle accident fatalities increased by a disquieting 7 percent in 2015, and figures from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System suggest that 2016 crash statistics will be even more alarming.

New passenger vehicles are fitted with a dizzying array of passive and active safety features, but they are often smaller and lighter than cars and SUVs manufactured just a few years ago. While modern vehicles may offer better fuel economy than their predecessors, they may not offer as much protection in a crash. The IIHS monitors accident and death rates for individual models as well as entire vehicle classes, and the nonprofit group says that the number of fatalities per million vehicle years increased from 28 in 2011 to 30 in 2014.

The roads have also been made more dangerous in recent years by a worrying rise in the number car accidents caused by distracted drivers. Attorneys representing crash victims may suspect that distraction played a role when their clients were injured by drivers who took no evasive action, and they could study cellphone usage records and the information stored on automotive electronic systems in order to establish liability.

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