Motor vehicle accident fatalities around the country have reached levels not seen in almost a decade according to data released on Feb. 15 by the National Traffic Council. The group reports that 40,200 road users, including many in Illinois, lost their lives in 2016, which represents a 6 percent increase over the 2015 fatality figures and a worrying 14 percent increase over the number killed in 2014. The last time more than 40,000 Americans died on the nation’s roads was in 2007.

The increase in 2015 accident deaths was put down to higher traffic levels caused by falling gas prices and a thriving economy, but the NSC says that the 3 percent increase in traffic volume observed in 2016 cannot fully explain a 6 percent surge in motor vehicle accident fatalities. The ever-growing number of motorists who use their cellphones while behind the wheel could explain some of this discrepancy, and the NSC has called for a complete ban on the use of these devices by drivers to address this problem.

The NSC released the results of a survey along with its sobering fatality report, and almost half of the motorists polled said that they felt comfortable sending or reading text messages while driving. One in 10 admitted to getting behind the wheel after drinking, and a quarter said that they routinely exceed the posted speed limits in residential neighborhoods.

Human error is a factor in the vast majority of automobile accidents according to government data, and personal injury attorneys may seek to hold negligent drivers responsible for their actions when they harm other road users. Reckless drivers are generally reluctant to admit that they made mistakes, and attorneys may scrutinize police reports, accident investigations, cellphone records and driving histories for information that could be used to establish liability in car accident lawsuits.