NHTSA: Estimates Show Traffic Deaths Jumped in 2012

An early estimate of motor vehicle traffic deaths in 2012 showing a 5.3 percent increase from the year before. It is the first annual jump in traffic fatalities since 2005.

According to recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 34,080 people killed in car crashes last year, compared with 32,367 deaths in 2011.

The 5.3 percent increase mirrors the increase predicted by the National Safety Council (NSC), which in February released estimates of 36,200 traffic deaths last year, which would represent a 5 percent increase from 2011.

Traffic fatalities had been “steadily declining” over the previous six years and fell 26 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the report. A 1.9 percent drop between 2010 and 2011 brought traffic death rates to their lowest level in six decades.

In the 17 quarters between the second quarters of 2006 and 2010, shrinking fatality numbers over that period signified the longest quarter-after-quarter decrease since the NHTSA began recording fatality data in 1975.

The two next-longest periods were 11-quarter drops in the early-’90s and early-’80s.

The NHTSA also said national data shows that Americans are drove more in 2012 than in 2011 by 9.1 billion miles, or a .3 percent increase. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel (VMT) jumped from 1.1 in 2011 to 1.16 in 2012; that rate is still well below others in 2005, 2006 and 2007 when the fatalities per million VMT rate was between 1.36 and 1.46.

When analyzed by region, the NHTSA’s figures showed that the biggest percentage increase in traffic deaths between 2011 and 2012 was in the south-central region of the U.S., at 10 percent. That region includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The southwestern U.S., with California, Arizona and Hawaii, showed the next biggest increase at 9 percent.

The first quarter of 2012 was “significant,” according to the report, showing a 12.6 percent increase from the same period in 2011; it was the first increase in first-quarter traffic deaths since 2006 and was the largest percentage jump of all quarters in 2012.

Estimates on Fatality Increase Align

The NHTSA’s estimated increase in annual fatality numbers is in line with a preliminary report published late last year that showed that there would be a 7.1 percent jump in the first three quarters of 2012 compared with 2011.

The NHTSA’s latest estimates on 2012 show an average 7 percent increase through the first three quarters before a more-meager 1.7 percent increase in the fourth quarter lowered the annual figure to 5.3 percent.

The NHTSA did not specify reasons for the increase, saying that “it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications.”

However, the agency said, any increase would be compared to a long-term “historic” trend of falling fatality figures in recent years that “means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure.”

Final fatality figures for 2012 will be reported through the Fatal Analysis Reporting System this fall, according to the report.

Traffic Safety Group Highlights Distracted Driving

The latest report confirms the fears of groups like the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which said in January that an increase in traffic deaths in 2012 impedes progress “on many fronts for traffic safety” that advocates had built over several years.

The AAA outlined its legislative priorities for 2013 with that in mind, choosing teen driver safety as a main topic for advocacy. Teen drivers are strongly linked to an increase in distracted driving on American roadways, with studies highlighting their propensity for engaging in distracting activities behind the wheel like texting and “webbing.”

That agenda would be battling a problem that is already evident.

According to the NHTSA, there was a 1.9 percent increase between 2010 and 2011 in distraction-related traffic deaths.

For their part, state legislatures are trying to combat the problem with wider bans and harsher fines and penalties for texting and other distracted driving activities.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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