NHTSA: Traffic Deaths Shot Up 5.3 Percent to 34,080 in 2012

Deaths from motor vehicle crashes rose 5.3 percent in 2012, according to new numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [PDF]. It’s the first time since 2005 that fatalities have gone up. Vehicle miles traveled only rose 0.3 percent last year.

Marina Keegan and an estimated 34,079 other people died on America's roads in 2012 -- a 5.3 percent increase over 2011. Photo: ##http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/parents-yale-graduate-died-car-crash-sharing-daughter-final-newspaper-column-comforting-article-1.1086447##NYDN##

The winter was especially nasty, with 12.6 percent more deaths than the previous winter. But every quarter last year showed more traffic deaths than the same quarter in 2011. All in all, the tragic death toll of 34,080 is a shocking reversal of a six-year steady decline.

In February, the National Safety Council put its 2012 fatality estimate at 36,200.

Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities weren’t noted on the release from NHTSA, which is only an “early estimate” of the 2012 toll. We’ll have to wait until the agency releases the final numbers to see the stats for people biking and walking, which have been going up in recent years as overall deaths have been going down.

Fatalities rose the most in the northeast (>15 percent), the south (10 percent) and in the region comprising California, Arizona and Hawaii (9 percent).

Last year, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland credited the historic drop in fatalities — to a still-staggering 32,367 lives lost — to improved driving behavior, vehicle safety, and educational campaigns against drunk driving and for seat belt use. We’ll see how the agency explains the alarming increase in deaths last year.

NSC officials pointed to distracted driving and an increase in the number of heavy trucks on the roads as possible explanations for the increased bloodshed.

14 thoughts on NHTSA: Traffic Deaths Shot Up 5.3 Percent to 34,080 in 2012

  1. I continue to be amazed that we accept this level of preventable death and injury year after year. If any other mode of travel inflicted the carnage motor vehicles do, it would have been shut down by the NTSB until measures were found to make it safer. Seriously, we grounded an entire class of airliner because of some battery problems which didn’t even cause one death. It’s time to own up to the fact that the combination of today’s motor vehicles, coupled with the deficient skills of most drivers, is an inherently dangerous combination. Yes, that will mean immediately policy changes. Yes, it will mean some people will be greatly inconvenienced. And yes, it will cause major economic disruption. Nonetheless, I’m not seeing much alternative. Certainly the costs of dealing with 35,000+ deaths (plus probably ten times that due to health problems caused by auto exhaust), and several million injuries exceed whatever it will cost to get the injury/death numbers of road-based transport more in line with other modes. It should make the national news when someone dies in an automobile crash. That’s how rare it should be. 36,200 deaths in one year is totally unacceptable. Even 362 deaths should be unacceptable.

  2. Dear National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
    How fast were all these killer motorists driving their cars when they killed people?

    What’s that? You don’t know? Well, that’s just criminal negligence on the part of the state and federal government now isn’t it, given that we’ve had the means to measure and record vehicle speed into a black box for some time now.

    Speed kills – this we know. So how fast are these cars moving? When will we pass laws that require all car wrecks that seriously injure or kill REQUIRE a download and easy public access (for criminal & civil prosecution; research; roadway safety statistics) of black box data?

    When? People are dying out there. Not just on roadways, but wherever motorists kill. You know, like on sidewalks and in storefronts, too.

  3. According to the CDC’s database, in 2011, there were 34,676 deaths due to motor vehicle collisions. It was the third leading cause of death of children ages 1 – 4, the leading cause for children ages 5 – 14. But these age groups have low death rates in general, so motor vehicle collisions only amounted to 1282 deaths total for the two groups.

    Motor vehicle collisions were the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 – 24. This meant 6984 deaths, or a death rate per 100,000 of 15.9. For older age groups, other causes of death come to the fore, but the motor vehicle death rate per 100,000 is still high: 12.4 for 25 – 44 year olds; 11.7 for 45 – 64 year olds, and 15.5 for those 65+. This means the motor vehicle fatality rate for seniors is just about the same as for teens/young adults. (6,432 motor vehicle collision deaths for those over 65.)

    Deaths in other categories we hear a lot about:

    Total deaths by firearms: 32,163

    Total deaths by firearms that weren’t suicides: 12,174

    Total deaths from influenza: 1532

    Total deaths from whooping cough: 8

  4. “Motor vehicle collisions were the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 – 24”

    sounds right. i used to wreck every car i owned until i grew up

  5. It’s been pointed out many times that the US motor-vehicle-related death toll is the equivalent of a loaded jet airliner “buying the farm” every day or two. Why is this tolerated? (I don’t think “accept” is quite the word to use). I can think of several reasons: 1) For most Americans, driving or riding in a car is part of everyday life, while travel by aircraft or train is a special event. 2) I don’t know the exact extent of the NTSB’s jurisdiction, but it may not cover private motor vehicles below a certain size (perhaps 15 passenger vans). 3) Car crashes usually have body counts in the single digits; unless someone famous (e.g. James Dean) perishes, it’s not that newsworthy. 4) More stringent driver licensing policies, for both issuance and revocation, are politically unpopular because the average citizen would be greatly annoyed if he or she “missed the cut” of a rigorous testing program. And the vehicle industry wouldn’t like it because there would be fewer customers for their products. 5) The news media have a vested interest in downplaying street and highway casualties because they receive a significant portion of their advertising revenue from car and truck makers, and auto insurance providers.

  6. Agreed – if we are truly concerned about safety, we would be investing in pedestrian, biking, and transit. As it stands, 85% of our federal dollars are obligated to roadway investments, yet every Environmental Impact Statement used to justify enormous road projects cites safety as its first priority.

  7. I am DEFINITELY seeing worse driving on the road in the last few years. (This is in the Northeast.) I haven’t been able to explain why. But there’s just a lot more erratic driving, tailgating, going faster than is safe on snow, passing illegally on the right, failing to signal, etc. etc., than there was a few years ago.

  8. “People have shown beyond any reasonable doubt they’re utterly incapable
    of safely driving automobiles when there are such huge numbers of other
    automobiles in close proximity.”

    I wouldn’t go that far. I think a system of drivers’ licenses which required tests as stringent as the UK’s — which are far more stringent than ours — and required retesting every 5 years, and required license revocation for far more offenses — would get the unsafe people off the road.

    Yeah, about 2/3 of the driving population would lose their licenses.

  9. I couldn’t agree more.

    I bring these statistics up to friends and family when there is a delicious news event pounding their hearts with the love of cereal box thrill. It’s not popular with them for the same reason highway stats are not on TV. Humans are a strange sick lot when acting in their own best “long term interests” as a group. Since self interest, more than not, and much more than 51%, comes first with an individual, and self interest is a poor recipe for group interest it makes sense that this group behavior will not own up to it’s losses.

    My father was a fireman in the town I grew up in in the 60s and 70s. I have asked him just once if he thought human behavior with respect to these statistics would ever change. The sentence before my question above to him was, “Theoretically dad, if there was something you could tell me or anyone about humans that would mean an additional 15 minutes of life to me or anyone, what would it be?” He said, “I have found that I don’t like being negative. However, with what you asked, no, I don’t believe they will change. I wish it were not true. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand humans not changing in the face of statistical data that could be used to lengthen their lives. Understand that you can be killed by one at any point by no fault of your own. Understand that of all the accident scenes I have seen, always, both the at-fault and the not-at-fault parties scream for their loved ones lives back. I suspect in time it wears off. Do I think this is some fashion of self preservation? NO! I’m not sure what it is.”

    I thought the same as dad but wanted to check to see if I was going out in the field too far with my own thoughts. I’m probably a bit more negative though.

    I understand what we do and, I believe seeing why we do it, is not so hard. What is most frightening is that we actually prefer to not deal with it. As a group we do this in other locations. When attention is brought to these things, we reject them there too. And oddly we can be inappropriately proud of ourselves in those other locations, even if just as an individual. If someone from another planet came here to have a look, I’d honestly have to say, I would be embarrassed. Embarrassed mostly because I probably could do something to contribute to changing these statistics but remain shocked, shake my head and only look out so as not to get killed on the highway, and go home.

  10. 34,000 deaths, Odds do not frighten folks.

    2, 500,000, that’s another two and a half million injured in traffic. That should scare the crap outa people but it doesn’t seem to worry anyone. Main Causes – 1. Speed 2. Distraction

    Questions: Can car manufacturers be held responsible for cars that go over the maximum speed limit? Can a system be installed in cars that will not allow them to go over the speed limit for the area it’s in? Can car ignition disable phones?

    Speeding, distracted (booze or phones) everyone subject to dying.

    FOr the rest of the “rules” like seat belts and helmets, individual problems and should be up to the user, only they are in danger.

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