A troubling rise in traffic fatalities across Kansas shows no signs of easing.

Instead, officials say, the trend is accelerating.

Through the end of May, there have been 174 traffic deaths across Kansas, according to AAA. That's a 13 percent increase over the same period from a year ago and a 44 percent jump from 2015.

It's easily the most fatalities in Kansas through any May of the past five years.

"We are (averaging) more than one (a) day right now, which is sad," said Jennifer Haugh, a spokeswoman for AAA.

For all of 2016, there were 432 traffic deaths in Kansas, an increase of more than 20 percent over the year before.

There are several reasons for the surge in deaths, Haugh said.

Gas prices are cheaper nationally and in parts of Kansas, meaning people are driving more miles. But many motorists aren't wearing seat belts, and they're distracted while they're driving.

"You want people out doing that kind of thing," Haugh said of more driving.

But they need to be safer while doing it, she said.

"The toughest thing is to just focus on driving," Haugh said. "Everyone is trying to do multiple things when they drive, and we're not wired to multitask.

"Everyone thinks they are, but they really aren't."

Shorter attention spans are a significant contributor to many traffic safety issues, she said. Many drivers seem to be getting bored with simply driving, so they try to do other things at the same time.

"Texting gets a bad rap," Haugh said. "There are studies that show even talking on the phone or talking to someone else in the car is just as distracting."

Wichita hasn't seen a similar surge in traffic fatalities, according to police statistics. There were 10 through the first five months of 2016 and 11 through the same period so far this year.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger ___

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