Group’s Report on Traffic Fatalities Shows First Jump Since 2005

The National Safety Council (NSC) says its early estimates of last year’s motor vehicle-related deaths show that 2012 was the first year that figures jumped since 2005.

The report backs preliminary findings from federal officials who also recently released a report showing that the significant shrinkage in the number of crash deaths over the past half-decade was reversed last year.

Death Rates, Numbers Jump in Several Categories

According to the NSC, its estimate of 36,200 motor-vehicle deaths in 2012 marked a 5 percent increase compared with 2011, when there were 34,600 deaths.

Last year’s NSC figures showed increases both in deaths per person and per mile traveled. According to the data, there were 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people and 1.23 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, both of which were 4 percent higher in 2012 than 2011.

Also, costs from car-related fatalities grew last year, according to the NSC. Counting losses from medical expenses, workplace productivity, wages, property damage and others, the NSC said that the $276.6 billion that those deaths cost was 5 percent higher than in 2011.

The NSC attributed some of the increase to American motorists driving more total miles, a trend seen since December 2011 that could be because of “an improving economy and the mild 2012 winter.”

Federal Officials Estimate Increase of Similar Size

The recent year-to-year increase in total deaths was the first since 2004-2005.

Late last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released estimates of the number of traffic fatalities in the first three quarters of 2012 that showed a 7.1 percent increase compared with the same period in 2011.

The jump was largely due to a 13 percent jump in fatality figures between the first quarters of 2011 and 2012. The 7.1 percent increase would represent the largest increase in the first three quarters since 1975.

Before 2012, death numbers had been dropping significantly. The NHTSA reported that 2011 figures had fallen 2 percent from 2010 to record-low levels not seen in more than six decades.

There was an extensive period of declining traffic deaths that stretched 17 straight quarters, from the second quarter of 2006 to the second quarter of 2010, according to NHTSA. No other stretch had been as long in the past three decades, with the closest being consecutive drops over 11 quarters occurring in the early ’80s and ’90s.

The NHTSA said that it is “too soon to speculate” on the reasons for the increase, but added that the record jump in the first three quarters of 2012 may partly be due to its comparison to an already “historic downward trend” and “unprecedented low baseline figure.”

The NSC said the figures used in its reports are not comparable to those in the NHTSA’s report because the NSC counts deaths that occur within a longer time period after the crash.

Reversal in Number of Deaths Sparks Worry

Traffic safety officials have voiced alarm over the last year’s figures that they say shows a reversal in the recent progress made in reducing roadway fatalities.

On the heels of NHTSA’s preliminary study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said the findings were a “reminder that safety gains are not inevitable.”

Janet Froetscher, NSC’s president, said that she was “gravely concerned” by her group’s findings. Improvements in vehicle designs and safety features may have reduced the number of fatalities, according to Froetscher, but those reductions are threatened by “new challenges,” the foremost of which are teen driver safety and distracted driving.

Those two topics are exactly what are atop the advocacy agenda for the AAA, which said that recent federal funding support for states improving their young driver laws showed hope for this year.

Study after study has shown teenage drivers are the most prone to crashes, largely due to their susceptibility to dangerous roadway habits like distracted driving. Even car insurance for a teenager is the most expensive out of all age groups because insurance carriers want to cover their risk protecting drivers widely known as the most likely to crash and file an insurance claim.

“Progress slowed on many fronts for traffic safety advocates last year, but AAA has hope for improvements in 2013,” Kathleen Bower, AAA’s vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.

The NHTSA’s report on historically low fatality figures in 2011 showed an uptick in certain distraction-related categories, including the number of people killed in distraction-related crashes. Officials said the increase in that type of crash fatality “can be attributed in part to increase awareness and reporting.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for 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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