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U.S. traffic deaths spike in 2012 after tumbling last year

2011 was the safest on record, but this year the fatality rate has skyrocketed.

By Claire_Martin Dec 10, 2012 11:45AM
Photo by Joel FranusicNew statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal a yo-yo in traffic deaths over the past two years. While fatalities dropped to 32,367 in 2011 -- the lowest level since 1949 -- they jumped by 9 percent in the first half of 2012.

What gives? Americans are driving more this year, to put it simply.

"In 2011, travel on U.S. roads fell to its lowest level since 2003," David Shepardson writes in The Detroit News. "Last year, U.S. drivers logged 35.7 billion fewer miles over 2010, down 1.2 percent to 2.963 trillion miles."

But this year, we're making up for that lost road time. According to NHTSA, drivers logged 15.6 billion more miles behind the wheel in the first six months of 2012, the latest numbers available. That's a 1.1 percent increase.

Balmy weather in the first three months of 2012 was likely a factor. As more motorists took advantage of the improved driving conditions, there was a 13.4 percent uptick in fatalities. Fatality rates for the first six months of the year hit their highest levels since 2009; the increase was the most dramatic since 1979.

In 2011, drunk-driving deaths were among those that decreased. But on the flip side, large-truck occupants, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists were all involved in more accidents. Distracted-driving deaths also increased, by nearly 2 percent.

The overall trend is overwhelmingly positive; fatality rates in 2011 were 26 percent lower than in 2005.

The plan for the future, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is to focus on specific road-safety issues. "As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seatbelt use, drunk driving and driver distraction," he told The Detroit News.

[Source: The Detroit News; photo: Joel Franusic/Flickr]
Dec 10, 2012 1:10PM

I live in a city where apparently red lights are optional and the speed limit is just a suggestion. Then on my trek to work on the freeway, the part of the trip inside the city is taken up paying attention to drivers who must think they're in NASCAR -- they not only drive 80 mph but do it nose to tail with other cars and while dodging from one lane to the other. And outside the city, anyone doing 80 mph gets passed like they're standing still. With no law enforcement apparently to be had for speeders, it's no wonder that about every other day there's some sort of an accident. There are rollovers, tailgaters, people who hit other cars because they dodge back and forth through traffic and don't pay attention to the other lanes, people who come up behind other cars traveling in the right lane and then dodge into the left lane only to get back into the right lane and go immediately off the exit, because apparently they couldn't wait behind the other car for all of two seconds until they got to the exit ramp... Once, I was in the left lane and the whole line of traffic was going, well, let's just say above the speed limit, when all of a sudden a car passed us ON THE LEFT SHOULDER OF THE ROAD.


I agree that there's way too much talking on cell phones/texting/eating/reading the newspaper/putting on makeup/shaving/changing clothes going on behind the wheel. But what I fail to understand is why, when I'm in the left lane going above the speed limit and there's a solid lane of traffic in the right-hand lane, so OBVIOUSLY I can't get over, some moron comes up behind me doing 85 mph and tailgates me with his highbeams on until I can move out of his way. Once when someone did that to me, I moved over when I could, then got back in the left lane behind the guy and turned on my highbeams. He proceeded to SLAM ON HIS BRAKES and come to almost a dead stop in traffic, and then when I had to dodge around him gave ME an obscene gesture. Funny how it was OK for him to tailgate and blind me for several minutes until I could get out of his way, but then when I did it back to him he got pi$$ed.

Dec 10, 2012 12:58PM

I see people on the roads all the time who look completely oblivious to their surroundings. They just sit, hunched forward, going 10 mph under the speed limit. The look like zombies! To be a good defensive driver, people should always be aware of who is on each side of them, behind and in front of them. Half of the people I see on my morning commute are paying no attention to the other traffic. Geeze, I could be eating a hamburger and changing my CD, yet still know the traffic that surrounds me. People need to WAKE UP & pay attention!

Dec 10, 2012 1:58PM
its all about the little gadgets people are staring at while walking , driving, riding bike and they are called smart phones
Dec 10, 2012 12:54PM
I remember hearing a couple years ago the high gas prices are a GOOD thing because of less traffic deaths. I guess we need a new propaganda theory now.
Dec 10, 2012 1:05PM
I think because of the large popularity of small vehicles like Versa, Fit, Scion and Mini, their occupants don't have much of a chance when colliding with a mid-sized or larger vehicle.  One or two thousand pounds more on the bigger car can push the small one into oblivion.
Dec 10, 2012 2:22PM
I like seeing someone behind me texting. While their busy texting and not paying attention to their driving, I hit my brakes giving them a dose of reality.
Dec 10, 2012 1:38PM
I know all these sensors the manufacturers are adding to increase safety wont help much.  It desensitizes the drivers from their surroundings.  If you have a sensor that lets you know when you are too close to the guy in front of you then you tend to pay less attention to him and when that sensor goes out or gets dirty he hits the brakes and you drive over him and kill everyone in the vehicle all because that sensor made you pay less attention to those driving in front of you. 
Dec 10, 2012 2:17PM

Wow that sure ruins the Governments DOT's pet theory that higher gas prices,newer cars and over aggressive police enforcement would keep the death toll down!

Yep short tempered drivers,crowed lanes and all those cool gadgets in the new safer cars just helped make such a deadly mix!

Too much booze,sex or sugar is a great excuse but truth be told its always the drivers fault for not focusing on the road,getting proper rest and being smart enough to leave the toys alone when 2012 none of this happened!

Instatclue folks....higher MPG in a car or truck means way way less protection in an impact or crash and those airbags will kill you or blind you ..not much of a safety feature or worth the higher MPG!

Oh yeah that little black box is already in most of your cars and ready to send you to jail FYI


Dec 10, 2012 2:58PM
Texting and other distracted driving. People with no respect for the laws. People that get comfortable with bad driving habits. Under paid truck drivers with the mega-carriers throwing anything behind the seat that can breathe. Some companies have new drivers training new drivers now. Cops and courts that don't want to be bothered with the smaller infractions so they turn their heads. I guarantee you 80% or more drivers would fail if they had to take a written driving test again. It should be mandatory every license renewal. They can start by replacing LaHood!!
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