Take into consideration payday. The accountable shuffle new money to pay down money owed—that automobile mortgage, these lingering school payments, a bank card assertion. Others will put cash towards day-to-day requirements, like groceries, fuel, and lease. After which a number of will get somewhat wild. They’ll nab that pair of footwear they’ve been ogling on-line; they’ll decide up beer and nachos and have mates over for the sport. They’ll drive into the following city over to take a look at that new restaurant.

And this, oddly sufficient, could also be one cause site visitors fatalities spiked in 2016, in keeping with new knowledge from the Division of Transportation. Automobiles could also be safer than ever, however 37,461 individuals died on American roads that 12 months, a 5.6 % hike over 2015. Whereas fatalities have dramatically declined in current a long time, that is the second straight 12 months the quantity has risen. It’s too early to say why, precisely, that is taking place. Researchers will want rather more time with the info to determine that out. However right here’s a speculation: It’s the financial system, (crash) dummy.

“Individuals drive extra in a very good financial system,” says Chuck Farmer, who oversees analysis on the Insurance coverage Institute for Freeway Security. “They drive to totally different locations and for various causes. There’s a distinction between going out to a celebration in the course of the night time in an unfamiliar space and driving to work—that nighttime driving to a celebration is extra dangerous.”

The financial system is doing fairly OK. Client confidence has climbed for the reason that depths of the recession in 2009. Unemployment is at a 15-year low. And whereas wages are crawling upward, they’ve nonetheless elevated previously decade. Plus, fuel costs have remained low for the previous few years.

Researchers have lengthy recognized that driving deaths rise and dive with the financial system and revenue development. Individuals with jobs have extra cause to be on the highway than the unemployed. However this enhance cannot be pinned on the actual fact of extra driving, the stats point out. Even adjusted for miles traveled, fatalities have ticked up by 2.6 % over 2015. You may nonetheless blame the financial system, as a result of individuals aren’t simply driving extra. They’re driving in another way. Higher financial situation give them the flexibleness to drive for social causes. There could be extra bar visits (and consuming) and journeys alongside unfamiliar roads (with additional time spent a map on a cellphone).

The DOT numbers appear to verify that drivers concerned in site visitors deaths had been doing various things behind the wheel final 12 months. The feds say the quantity individuals who died whereas not carrying seat belts climbed four.6 %, and that drunk driving fatalities rose 1.7 %. Opposite to what you would possibly count on, the numbers present distracted driving deaths dropped barely, however specialists warning towards placing an excessive amount of religion in such information. The numbers are based mostly on police reviews. They’re reflections of what cops are seeing at crash websites, but in addition of what’s within the zeitgeist on the time. It might be that first responders weren’t, for instance, looking for distracted driving final 12 months as a result of it wasn’t within the information as typically.

This isn’t to say that public well being officers can sit on their driving gloves and look forward to an financial downturn to resolve the nation’s rising highway dying drawback. Engineers can design safer roads and policymakers can lower speed limits. Cops can step up enforcement of seat belt, drunk driving, and distraction legal guidelines. States might ratchet up driver training necessities and make assessments more durable to move, to ensure the brand new drivers hitting the highway know what they’re doing.

And then you definately’ve obtained the long-term performs. At present’s vehicles are safer than ever, largely due to stringent crash take a look at necessities and the unfold of options like computerized emergency braking. (Twenty automakers have pledged to make that stopping functionality out there on nearly all of new automobile fashions by 2022.) Nonetheless, they might be safer. Automobiles with semiautonomous options, like Tesla’s Autopilot, Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot, and Audi’s Site visitors Jam Help, are trickling into the market, and analysis has proven these can forestall crashes. However except one thing weird occurs (a sudden ban on human drivers?) it’ll take a few decade for the impact of those autos to indicate up in nationwide fatality stats, Farmer says.

Then there are totally autonomous vehicles. Those that don’t exist but. “It’s vital that policymakers help the security advantages of totally self-driving know-how,” David Strickland, former chief of the Nationwide Freeway Site visitors Security Administration and present head of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets (a pro-autonomy commerce group), stated in a press release responding to the crash knowledge. Street security is the premiere argument utilized by autonomous automobile builders asking regulators to ease the way for the tech. However once more, do not count on to see their merchandise extensively deployed for an additional decade or so.

Within the meantime, a tip to maintain you, your pals, and the kindly strangers who share the highway on this bodily aircraft: Simply since you’re out in town doesn’t imply you’re off the hook for staying secure.

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