- NHTSA data released Thursday shows that traffic fatalities rose 3.3 percent in 2012, the first increase since 2005.
- Despite the increase, NHTSA says highway fatalities over the past five years remain at historically low levels.
- The number of people killed in distracted-driving crashes decreased slightly.
WASHINGTON — NHTSA data released Thursday shows that traffic fatalities rose 3.3 percent in 2012, marking the first increase since 2005.
The number of road deaths in 2012 climbed to 33,561, compared to 32,479 in 2011. Yet, says NHTSA, highway fatalities over the past five years remain at historically low levels, with 2011 recording the lowest number since 1949. And even with the increase, fatalities in 2012 were at the same level as 1950.
The majority of the traffic deaths in 2012 occurred in the first quarter of the year, and most of them involved pedestrians and motorcyclists. According to NHTSA, pedestrian deaths increased 6.4 percent in 2012, most occurred at night in urban areas and many involved alcohol. The agency says motorcycle fatalities were up 7.1 percent over 2011 and notes that 10 times as many riders died while not wearing helmets in states without helmet laws as in states with such laws.
Other NHTSA data shows deaths among occupants of large trucks increased 8.9 percent in 2012, and drunk-driving fatalities rose 4.6 percent, while the number of people killed due to distracted driving went down a bit, from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328 in 2012.
"Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year and while we've made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it's clear that we have much more work to do," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. "As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation."
NHTSA administrator David L. Strickland agreed that there is more to be done, stating: "We will continue to work closely with our federal, state and local partners to change the way motorists behave on our roadways and build public awareness of key issues that have the potential to save many lives."
The picture may improve this year. NHTSA estimates for the first half of 2013 show a 4.2 percent decrease in road deaths compared to the same period in 2012.
Edmunds says: Although the increase in traffic fatalities in 2012 is not good news, early estimates for 2013 are cause for optimism.