Advancements in safety technology, awareness campaigns, changes in the law, and increased enforcement have been credited with the steady decline in highway fatalities over recent years. The data from the first nine months of 2012 has raised fears that the tide is turning. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of highway deaths from January to September of this year was a 7.1 increase over the same time period in 2011. That represents the largest one year jump during that timeframe since 1975.
The NHTSA collects data about highway fatalities from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Officials for the organization pointed out that the totals from 2011 represented the lowest number of highway deaths in 60 years. Last year, 23,884 people died in highway accidents from January to September. This year, the number rose to 25,580. That number is still significantly lower than the 32,141 highway fatalities from January to September 2005. The NHTSA further pointed out that it was too early to make any definitive conclusions about what caused the increase.
Part of the explanation is certainly that Americans drove more miles in the first part of 2012. Vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.6 percent from 2011. It has also been suggested that the unusually warm winter months at the start of 2012 may have played a part. That does not provide the full picture, however, as highway deaths in 2012 were higher in each of the first three quarters compared to 2011.
Source: Star Tribune, “Road fatalities on rise in Minnesota, nation,” by Tim Harlow, 24 December 2012