The number of fatal crashes increased slightly in the Surete du Quebec’s territory in 2017 – and the percentage of young people who died in a car crash has gone way up.

In its annual report released Friday, the SQ said deadly crashes went up 1.7 per cent over the previous year: There were 244 in 2017 compared to 240 in 2016.

The number of deaths for the same period, however, increased by 3.5 per cent, from 260 to 269.

Nearly two-thirds of fatal collisions occurred during the day.

After four years in decline, there was a massive increase in the number of young people who died in car crashes. Fifty-seven people between the ages of 16 and 24 were killed in 2017, compared to 39 the year before. That's an increase of 47 per cent.

"Where we're even more concerned is we have a 200 per cent increase in the number of passengers between the 16 and 25 who died in the past year, it went from five to 15," said SQ spokesperson Lt. Jason Allard. "That's enormous, that's 15 families whose lives are destroyed. Often, they were the victims of the driver."

Allard encouraged young people to speak up when they are passengers if they notice the driver driving dangerously. 

The SQ also found that the number of speed-related fatalities dropped from 89 in 2016 to 76 in 2017. Still, speeding was among the probable causes of fatal collisions in more than 30 per cent of cases last year.

Driver distraction, including cell phone use, was implicated in 9.8 per cent of fatal collisions in 2017, exceeding for the first time driving while impaired, at 9 per cent.

"We're realizing that distracted driving is about a lot more than just using a phone," said Allard. "People are reading books, they're playing on their GPS's, they're playing with their dash, sometimes not knowing how their car actually works, trying to find the cruise control. There's all kinds of things that can distract you when you're driving a vehicle."

Distracted driving was the probable cause of 24 fatal collisions, and the SQ said it issues more than 10,000 tickets every year on the use of the mobile phones while driving.

"What jumped at us was that distracted driving has become the number two cause involved in fatal collisions in the province," said Allard. "Number one is still speeding, one out of three collisions is still related to speeding." 

The SQ said police arrest more than 19 people per day for driving while impaired.

While statistics show summer is the deadliest season on Quebec's roads, Allard warned that winter has its own set of hazards. Andrew Matthews, an instructor at Morty's Driving School, said many people forget the basics when presented with tough road conditions. 

"I tell my students that driving in the winter is no different than driving in the summertime except for stopping, starting, sharp turns and climbing hills," he said. 

One bit of good news: there was a 50 per cent year-over-year decline in the number of people who did not wear a seatbelt.

- With files from La Presse Canadienne