The National Safety Council estimates traffic deaths were up 6 percent in 2016 with 4,200 fatalities, the most in nearly a decade.
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That upward trend holds true for the Tar Heel State.
Kevin Lacy, State Traffic Engineer with the NCDOT, said North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for traffic fatalities.
READ MORE: National Safety Council Motor Vehicle Fatality Estimates (.pdf)
NCDOT records show that in 2015, 1,385 people were killed in crashes. That number grew to more than 1,400 in 2016.
But Lacy said the traffic fatality rate dropped because of a growing population with more people driving and driving farther.
Still, he said, people dying behind the wheel should not be the cost of a growing, busy state.
"Let's make it personal," Lacy said. "How many people dying on our highways is acceptable for your family? None. That's why when we start talking about the most important safety feature of any vehicle on the roadway, it's the driver."
WATCH: Mickey Tripp of Carolina Road Driving School has tips for young drivers.
Lacy cited speed and distracted driving as big contributors with more crashes involving a driver simply going off the road.
Studies also show a high rate of drivers and passengers failing to fasten their seat belt, Lacy said.
At the AAA Carolina Road Driving School in Raleigh, instructor Mickey Tripp teaches students 14-16 years old, stressing the importance of staying focused behind the wheel.
"Poor time management leads to speeding and then when you add technology to the speeding, then you start opening up Pandora's box and you got all kinds of situations," said Tripp. "Because they haven't had a serious accident, they really don't see the danger."
Tripp said he encourages his students to either put their cell phone in the trunk, or if it's in the car with them when they're driving, to turn it off before they hit the road.
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