By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — More than 40,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, and one state in our region is seeing its death rate rise.

“Traffic trends are going in the wrong direction,” said Ken Kolosh, who directs statistical reporting for the National Safety Council. He said despite stronger laws against distracted driving and better safety equipment in cars, traffic deaths are up 6 percent nationwide in the last year.

“We see pedestrian deaths going up 9 percent. We see deaths involving young drivers going up nearly 10 percent,” Kolosh said.

It’s the second year of a troubling trend. Many states saw traffic deaths shoot up in the last two years, including New Jersey, where motor vehicle deaths are up 8 percent since 2014.

Researchers say they’re seeing more alcohol-related deaths, as well as a disturbing trend in distracted driving.

“About five years ago, we were most concerned with cellphone conversations,” Kolosh said. “Since then, we’ve seen a shift, from drivers shifting away from cellphone conversations, which were dangerous enough, to even more dangerous activities like texting and using apps behind the wheel.”

Kolosh says younger drivers are taking some of the biggest risks.

“Nearly 5 percent of young drivers at any given daylight moment are texting or doing other activities with their phones, so we have to be very defensive when we’re behind the wheel,” Kolosh said.

Delaware and Pennsylvania are bucking the trend. In those states, motor vehicles deaths are falling.

Researchers expected traffic deaths to rise in this time period, particularly after the recession. Fatal traffic crashes tend to increase when the economy is strong and gas prices are low, luring more drivers onto roads. However, that doesn’t explain why the number of deaths have risen this much, researchers said.

More on the National Safety Council can be found here.

Watch & Listen LIVE