Traffic Deaths Increased by 9% During First Half of 2012
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that there was a 9% increase in traffic fatalities involving vehicles for the first half of 2012 — the largest jump for the first half of a year since data first began being collected in 1975, according to Jim Barnett for CNN.
Barnett writes that NHTSA said the number of vehicle accident fatalities from January through June 2012 is an estimated 16,290 according to statistical projections; the previous highest increase for the first half of a year was 6.4% in 1979.
This recent rise in fatalities comes after a decline of about 27% from 2006 (when there were 20,500 fatalities) to the first half of 2011, when there were 14,950 fatalities, Barnett writes.
As Ashley Halsey III writes for The Washington Post, the six previous years of decline took traffic deaths to their lowest point in 60 years. Halsey reports:
Highway safety experts were at a loss to explain why, but most speculated that rebounding economic confidence may have put more people on the roads.
‘Traffic deaths drop in a recession, sometimes significantly,’ said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. ‘People who lose their jobs or are worried they may lose them don’t take as many optional trips, like driving at night or on weekends, or going to parties or the bars. Once the economy improves, that driving comes back.’
However, Halsey writes, although some see the recession as a factor, the decline in traffic fatalities began before the economic decline, in 2006. There was speculation that the decline was due to the use of seat belts, greater awareness of drunk driving, better highway design, and air bags and other auto safety improvements, Halsey writes.
She quotes Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, as cautioning that data for one half of one year does not constitute a trend:
‘If there are increases over a three- or five-year period, then it’s time to take a second look at what is being done and retool,’ Harsha said. ‘It’s extremely difficult to maintain steady decreases over time, and the increase is not unexpected.’
She shared Rader’s assessment that people do more discretionary driving and get into more accidents as the economy improves.
‘However, since [the total number of miles people are driving] went up only 1.2 percent, the economy isn’t the whole answer to the puzzle,’ Harsha said. ‘The warm winter may also have contributed to the increase, because it meant a longer riding season for motorcyclists, more walking and biking.’
According to Barnett, Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, called the news of an increase in traffic deaths “very disturbing” and went on to say, in a statement: “We have worked decades to reduce fatalities in America… but this is a serious shot across the bow, a warning that as we drive more, our roads may not be as safe as we thought they were.”
Anderson said it is likely that the continued deterioration of highways and the deferral of needed road maintenance and improvements by federal and state governments is a contributing factor to the recent rise in fatalities.