2016 had the hightest level of traffic related deaths in nearly a decade

WASHINGTON (AP) — A jump in traffic fatalities last year pushed deaths on U.S. roads to their highest level in nearly a decade.

Fatalities rose 6 percent in 2016, reaching an estimated 40,200 deaths compared to 37,757 deaths the previous year, according the National Safety Council.

The last time there were more than 40,000 fatalities in a single year was in 2007, just before the economy tanked. There were 41,000 deaths that year.

The increase came as Americans drove more last year — a 3 percent increase in total miles. The council cited continued lower gasoline prices and an improving economy as key factors.

Following an increase in fatalities in 2015, the United States has had the sharpest two-year increase in traffic deaths in 53 years, the council said.

Americans have come to accept large numbers of traffic deaths as inevitable instead of than taking actions that would prevent them, said Deborah Hersman, the council's president.

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, said state officials continue to point to three predominant factors in traffic deaths — "belts, booze and speed."

In the last three years, 13 states have raised speed limits on at least some portion of their interstate highways.

The estimated annual mileage death rate last year was 1.25 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, an increase of 3 percent from the 2015 rate.

Teens, who have the highest fatal crash rates, are also back on the road after the recession when many of them couldn't afford to drive as much, Adkins said.

The council's fatality estimates differ slightly from those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The government counts only deaths that occur on public roads, while the council includes fatalities that occur in parking lots, driveways and private roads.

Last month, NHTSA reported that traffic deaths surged about 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016.