Highway Accident Fatalities Surge after Several Years of Decline

Fatalities from car accidents in the United States increased substantially for the first time since 2005 last year, according to preliminary data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

According to the NHTSA, car accident deaths rose approximately 5.3 percent last year – to a total of 34,080 deaths from crashes – after declining each year since 2005. Many experts had noted that an increase in traffic deaths would not be unusual due to more motorists being active drivers on the roadway as a result of the rebounding economy.

Experts Not Surprised by Increase in Car Accident Deaths

But the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) says that vehicle miles traveled in 2012 only increased by .3 percent, suggesting that the 5.3 percent increase in fatalities is much more significant than would have been expected, even after accounting for the increase in miles traveled.

As a whole, traffic deaths declined approximately 26 percent from 2005 to 2011 – there were an estimated 32,367 deaths from car accidents on American roadways in 2011. The fatality rate in the same year was 1.10, but experts believe that number will reach somewhere around 1.16 for 2012. The number of total fatalities for each quarter of 2012 was significantly higher than the same time of the previous year, the NHTSA added in its report.

“The news, while disheartening, is not surprising,” says Barbara Harsha of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). “With the improving economy and historically low levels of motor vehicle deaths in recent years, we expected deaths to increase. Highway deaths have been declining significantly in recent years.”

Cause for Concern Regarding Motorcycle Accidents

Where Harsha’s concern lies, however, is with motorcyclists and the number of motorcycle accidents resulting in serious injury and death throughout the country.

The GHSA recently projected that there were an estimated 5,000 motorcyclists killed in traffic accidents throughout the course of 2012. According to Harsha, that would be almost a 15 percent increase in motorcycle accident deaths from the previous year.

When asked about options for reversing the trend of increasing motorcycle accident fatalities, Harsha says the 31 states that currently lack mandatory helmet laws for riders would be a place to start. The numbers released by the NHTSA are preliminary, and although they are typically very accurate the administration will continue to work on compiling a complete statistical summary.

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