A 50-Year Downward Trend in Traffic Deaths Just Ended More than 35K people died in car crashes in 2015 By Michael Harthorne, Newser Staff Posted Aug 30, 2016 12:21 PM CDT 93 comments Comments Oregon State Police investigate a fatal car crash Aug. 25 in Eugene. Officials say traffic fatalities were up 7.2% in 2015. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP) (Newser) – Last year, 35,092 people died in car crashes, according to numbers released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NPR reports it was a 7.2% increase over 2014—the largest single-year increase since 1966 and, according to a press release, the end of a 50-year downward trend in traffic fatalities. "Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year," US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says. Officials say the increase in deaths is attributable to more people driving due, in part, to job growth and cheaper gas, both of which lead to more young people driving and more people driving for non-work reasons. People are also driving longer distances, on average. Nearly half the traffic fatalities in 2015 were passengers who weren't wearing seat belts. And approximately 30% involved a drunk driver. "The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled," a NHTSA administrator says. The new numbers led the Obama administration to issue a "call to action," asking everyone from drivers to scientists to work together to solve the problem, the AP reports. Car-crash deaths are up 9% so far in 2016.