NHTSA: U.S. Traffic Deaths Increased in First Quarter of 2012
Although the number of traffic deaths has been declining in recent years, accident fatalities have shown a “significant increase” for the first three months of 2012 as compared with government statistics from a year earlier. And, as Jim Barnett points out in a CNN article, this is despite efforts to build vehicles with technology to prevent accidents and reduce threats from distracted driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Quarter (January–March) of 2012 (PDF) says a statistical projection shows that an estimated 7,630 people died in motor vehicle accidents from January through March of 2012.
This represents a 13.5% increase over the same period in 2011, when there were 6,720 fatalities. Until 2012, first-quarter fatalities had been falling since 2006, when there were 9,558 in the corresponding period.
Barnett writes that NHTSA says the increase in traffic deaths might be due to the warm winter, which had more people on the roads:
Transportation safety officials point out the crash fatality rate for the first quarter each year is traditionally significantly lower than the rates for the other three quarters, in part because of the effects of winter weather. However, the winter of 2012 was unseasonably warm and people tend to drive more when the weather is better.
‘While it is likely not the only factor involved, AAA agrees that warmer-than-average winter weather may have contributed to higher vehicle miles traveled, and ultimately more fatal crashes,’ said Jacob Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research with the Automobile Association of America. ‘These data show there is more work to be done to improve driver safety such as limiting distractions, reducing impaired driving and promoting a culture of safety among motorists.’
NHTSA writes that if the current projections hold, the numbers for the first quarter of 2012 will represent the second largest year-to-year quarterly increase in traffic deaths since NHTSA began recording them in 1975. The largest number of traffic deaths occurred in 1972, with 54,589 killed, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Barnett reports.
To conduct its analysis, NHTSA used data from several government sources, such as the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Fast-FARS (FF), and Monthly Fatality Counts (MFC). NHTSA said it will release projections for the first half of 2012 in early September.
In an editorial for the MSN blog Exhaust Notes, Clifford Atiyeh writes: “… [I]f it seems like you’re just reading a bunch of numbers on a screen, consider this: More people died on U.S. roads in three months than all the U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade. That’s not what we’d call relief.”