SPRINGFILED — Safety and insurance industry experts say Illinois traffic fatalities are expected to pass 1,000 this year for the first time since 2008 because of higher speeds, more miles driven and an increase in the number of younger drivers on the road.
As of Friday, 629 people had died in vehicle, motorcycle, pedestrian and bicycle crashes in Illinois this year, The State Journal-Register reported. The number is up 50 from the same period in 2015.
In 2015, there were a total of 998 traffic fatalities, which was the highest number since 1,043 died in 2008.
Itasca-based National Safety Council statistics manager Ken Kolosh said much of the rising toll has been on rural interstates.
"That's where the larger part of fatalities occur," Kolosh said. "It's higher speeds. Crashes tend to be more violent and produce more fatalities."
Illinois raised speed limits on rural interstates from 65 mph to 70 mph at the beginning of 2014. Illinois traffic fatalities actually fell to a record low in the first full year of higher speeds before spiking last year.
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"I don't think we can point to the speed limit yet, but it's something we're going to be closely analyzing," said Randy Blankenhorn, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Blankenhorn said that pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in urban areas, such as Chicago.
"Most of our problems come down to a couple of things," he said. "Avoid disruptions, whether it's being on your cell phone or texting while you're walking on busy streets. We see a lot of distractions, and speeding is always going to be an issue."
The council 38,300 deaths nationwide in 2015. The deadly toll in Illinois reflects national trends, but Kolosh said fatalities in the state are rising faster.
"It was a historic year, unfortunately in a bad way," Kolosh said.