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U.S. Traffic Fatalities Increased in 2012

Feb. 20, 2013
According to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council, motor vehicle fatalities rose 5 percent in 2012 as compared to 2011 – marking the first increase in traffic deaths since 2005.

It hasn’t happened since 2005: Motor vehicle fatalities increased in 2012 compared to the previous year. In 2012, approximately 36,200 traffic deaths occurred in the United States, a roughly 5-percent increase from the 2011 fatalities, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).

Prior to the 2012 numbers, annual traffic deaths had followed a downward trend. For example, the 2011 fatality count was 2 percent lower than 2010, which had been 2 percent lower than 2009. The decline in U.S. traffic fatalities stretched back to 2005, the last time an increase was recorded.

“NSC is greatly concerned with the upswing in traffic fatalities on our nation’s roads,” said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of NSC. “Although we have improved safety features in vehicles today, we also have new challenges, especially as it relates to teen and distracted driving, that need to be addressed on a national scale. We must work together now to reverse this latest trend to prevent needless tragedy.”

NSC’s preliminary estimates also indicate that crash injuries requiring medical attention also rose by 5 percent since 2011, reaching a total of 3.9 million in 2012. NSC said the rise in deaths and injuries possibly can be attributed to the fact that total miles driven nationwide also have increased – possibly due to an improving economy and mild 2012 winter weather – since December 2011.

In addition to devastating human loss, motor vehicle crashes present a significant national cost in lost wages and productivity, medical expenses, administrative expenses, employer costs and property damage. The estimated cost of motor vehicle deaths, injuries and property damage in 2012 was $276.6 billion, a 5-percent increase from 2011.  

NSC gathers its data each month, when traffic authorities in 50 states and the District of Columbia supply NSC with motor vehicle fatality data. This data is used to make current-year estimates based on the latest final count from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NSC counts total motor vehicle-related fatalities that occur within a year of the crash, consistent with data compiled from death certificates by the NCHS, and includes those occurring on public roadways and private property. This differs from the methods used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which counts traffic fatalities that occur within 30 days of a crash and only those occurring on public roadways.

NSC stressed that its 2012 estimate is provisional and may be revised when more data are available.

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