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New NHTSA Numbers Confirm Jump in Car Crash Deaths in 2012

Car crashRecent federal statistics confirmed that last year brought the first rise in the number of motor vehicle fatalities nationwide since 2005.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 33,561 deaths relating to roadway crashes in 2012 compared to 32,479 deaths in 2011. The increase of 1,082 deaths signified a 3.3 percent rise compared to 2011, the first rise in a near-decade.

The finalized figures revise an estimate published earlier this year showing a fatality count for 2012 that was 5.3 percent higher than in 2011.

The NHTSA also outlined shifts in the makeup of that fatality count since 2003: the proportion of deaths of occupants in a passenger vehicle shrunk since then, though the proportion in the deaths of motorcyclists and nonoccupants both grew.

Traffic fatalities are the most common cause of death for people between 5 and 34 years old, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

‘Warmest First Quarter on Record’ May Have Contributed to More Motorcycle, Pedestrian Deaths

Much of the increase in 2012 was due the first three months of the year, when 72 percent of the year’s total fatality count occurred. According to the NHTSA, 2012 had the “warmest first quarter on record” while also showing increases in deaths of motorcyclists, pedestrians and other nonoccupants.

“This may explain some of the increase in fatalities in 2012, especially the number and pattern of those during January through March,” the NHTSA said in its report.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement that while federal authorities have shown “substantial progress” in fighting roadway fatalities, which hit a 60-year low in 2011, “it’s clear that we have much more work to do.”

“As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation,” he said.

One emerging issue is distracted driving, one of the nation’s most visible public safety issues in recent years. Traffic safety groups, automakers, car insurers and federal entities alike have joined in a comprehensive effort to reduce distractions behind the wheel, to varying success.

In its latest report, the NHTSA said that fatalities from “distraction-affected crashes” kept mostly level between 2011 and 2012, falling by 32 deaths, from 3,360 to 3,328. However, the number of injuries from those crashes jumped 9 percent, from 387,000 in 2011 to 421,000 in 2012.

“NHTSA is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents, and is continuing work to improve the way it captures data to better quantify and identify potential trends in this area,” the agency said.

In a preliminary estimate of traffic deaths during the first half of 2013, NHTSA said that traffic fatalities are 4.2 percent lower compared to the first half of 2012.

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