A new national study automobile service AAA shows that hit-and-run car crashes are surging, with a 60 percent increase in fatalities since 2009. A traffic safety expert who looked at the research said there are several factors important in the increase, but he says one in particular plays an important role in causing motor vehicle accidents: distracted driving.

“Motorists who text while driving are especially apt to hit pedestrians. Some, realizing their gross negligence, panic and quickly leave the scene,” said the director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.

According to AAA’s nonprofit research arm, 2,049 people died in hit-and-run crashes in 2016. That’s the highest annual total since National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began tracking these types of accidents in 1975.

AAA pointed out in a statement that it isn’t just hit-and-runs that are on the rise: all types of fatal motor vehicle wrecks have risen in recent years.

A spokesperson for the auto service said that people are more likely to flee after a crash that causes the death of a pedestrian or bicyclist than they are after a two-vehicle fatal collision. She said that’s because vehicles are often inoperable after a two-vehicle crash violent enough to have caused a death.

Experts say that traffic congestion in busy cities such as St. Louis also contributes to hit-and-runs. People get frustrated and then aggressive when trying to cope with slow-moving traffic. Far too often, frustration turns into aggressive driving.

Those injured in crashes caused by distracted, drunk or otherwise reckless drivers have legal recourse. Talk to an attorney experienced in personal injury litigation about your options.