Illinois is bucking a national trend by logging an increase in traffic fatalities.

According to the National Safety Council, preliminary estimates show road deaths in the state are up 4 percent in the first six months of the year, despite falling nationwide by about 1 percent.

Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics with the National Safety Council, says Illinois is seeing a large increase in what are called “vulnerable road user” deaths. The group includes pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

“We saw a 22 percent increase in just pedestrian deaths in Illinois,” Kolosh said. “Not surprisingly, nearly one-third of those deaths occurred in Chicago. Chicago is the largest city in Illinois and pedestrian deaths are more frequent in urban settings like that.”

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Kolosh says distracted driving, particularly involving mobile devices, is a major factor in many crashes. A 2014 ban on using hand-held devices while behind the wheel in Illinois does not appear to be making a big difference.

“What we have found is some of these hand-held bans are hard to enforce, so they might not be decreasing the use of cell phones in the car,” Kolosh said. “And even hands-free cell phones, over and over again in research, have been shown to create distractions and pose risks on our roads.”

Kolosh also says the speed limit increase to 70 miles per hour on some interstate highways in Illinois could be leading to higher-speed crashes.

“Research over and over again has shown that increased speed limits do result in more deaths on our roads,” Kolosh said. “The impact of the increased speed limits was obscured for a few years because of the recession, but now with the improving economy and the increased speed limits we might be seeing the impact of those.”

According to the National Safety Council, more than 500 people have been killed on Illinois roads since January, of an estimated 18,680 deaths across the country. 

(Copyright WBGZ Radio /