More people are dying on California's roads

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A new report finds the number of people dying on California’s roads rose at a faster rate between 2015 and 2016 than the national average.

According to estimates from the National Safety Council there were 3,680 motor vehicle deaths in the state in 2016, an increase of 13 percent over the previous year. Nationwide, the number of fatalities increased by 6 percent in the same time period.

New Mexico experienced the largest increase in traffic fatalities of any state, with the number of deaths jumping 34 percent from 2015 to 2016. Twelve states saw a decline in highway deaths.

California's rise in fatalities is linked at least in part to the health of the economy, according to Ken Kolosh, who manages the National Safety Council's statistics department. As the economy has recovered since the recession, more people are on the roads, which leads to more fatal accidents, he said.

The increase in mileage alone does not fully explain the increase in deaths. "Deaths are going up faster than the mileage would lead us to believe they should, so we know there are other safety issues at play as well as economic issues," said Kolosh. 

California has had an increase in the number of fatalities caused by drivers under the influence of drugs, particularly prescription medicines, said Chris Cochran, spokesman for the state's Office of Traffic Safety. He said distracted cell phone users are also driving up the highway death rate.

While California has some of the best safety regulations in the country, "there's still more room to improve," said Kolosh. It's illegal in the state to drive while texting or calling without a hands-free phone, but Kolosh says Sacramento should move to prohibit all phone calls, because "even hands-free conversations are shown to be dangerous."  

In a new survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 40 percent of respondents said they had read an email or text while driving in the past 30 days.