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Data shows car accident deaths up sharply in the U.S.

For years, deaths in motor vehicle accidents have been on the decline in the United States. But some Montana readers may be surprised to learn that this is no longer the case. According to preliminary estimates released recently by the National Safety Council, car accident deaths in 2016 were up six percent over the previous year. This follows a seven percent increase in 2015. That two-year increase in fatal accidents is the largest in over 50 years.

Safety advocates point to a number of possible causes for the increase, including smartphone apps that encourage distracted driving, and an improving economy over the last two years putting more people on the roads. But government experts and safety advocates say the primary reason is reduced enforcement of speeding, drunk driving and seat belt laws, due in part to budget cuts affecting law enforcement agencies.

About 50 percent of people who die in traffic accidents were not wearing a seat belt. Montana law requires seat belt use by all occupants of a car, including those in the back seat. But failing to use a seat belt is only a secondary offense in Montana, meaning that police and Highway Patrol officers cannot issue a ticket for it unless the driver is pulled over for another violation.

Those who have lost a loved one due to another driver's negligence have important legal rights. Under Montana law, surviving next of kin have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and recover monetary damages. This can be vitally important for survivors, especially spouses and minor children who have lost a caregiver and breadwinner.

Source: New York Times, "U.S. Traffic Deaths Rise for a Second Straight Year," Neal E. Boudette, Feb. 15, 2017

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