The year 2011 saw the fewest road traffic fatalities in America in more than 60 years. The last time the number of people killed in U.S. road accidents was as low as last year came in 1949.
While officials responsible for road safety, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were still congratulating themselves on a job well done, the year 2012 dawned, and things changed rapidly. Only this time, the change in numbers is moving in the wrong direction.
Now, those same officials who thought they had the problem of road safety, if not under control then at least moving in the right direction, are now concerned that the three years of positive improvements were more of a glitch in the system than a sustainable trend. That’s because in the first three months of 2012, road fatalities were up a worrying 13.5 percent over the same period in 2011. Some of the other statistics released in the NHTSA report include:
- A total of 7,630 people were killed in road accidents in the first quarter of this year.
- That figure is 910 more than the number of fatalities for the same period in 2011.
- The 13.5 percent increase represents the first increase after five consecutive quarters of a downward trend.
- That number was also the second highest year-on-year quarterly rise since the NHTSA began keeping records in 1975. Only a 15.3 percent increase in the first quarter of 1979 was worse.
- The first quarter of 2012 marked only the third time since 2006 when an increase in road deaths was recorded.
So what’s going on?
The National Safety Council (NSC) and the NHTSA have two theories to explain the sudden increase in fatal traffic accidents.
First of all, the incidents of distracted driving would appear to be on the increase. The NSC says that cell phones are a particular cause of concern. They estimate that one in every four of all crashes that occur on American roads involve the use of cell phones.
Many states have now banned the use of cell phones while driving. However, the effectiveness of those bans, as well as the obvious inclination of many drivers’ to flout the cell phone laws are calling into question the effectiveness of those bans.
Another theory put forward by the NHTSA is that the mild winter may have contributed to the sharp increase in accidents. They say that very severe weather has a tendency to keep people off the roads and cuts back on non-essential journeys.
Other groups disagree with the NHTSA theory on two fronts. They say that severe weather may keep some people off the roads, but it can also cause an increase in accidents, rather than the reverse being true. In addition, the number of road miles traveled in the first three months of this year only rose by 1.4 percent compared with first three months of 2011. That figure comes nowhere near to matching the 13.5 percent increase in road fatalities.
If the pattern of the first three months continues to play out for the rest of 2012, America is setting a pace that will see 36,672 people lose their lives on United States roads. That figure is getting dangerously close to the 37,423 deaths recorded in 2008.
The NHTSA tried to soften the obvious body blow delivered by the first quarter figures by pointing out that American roads are still substantially safer than they were just seven years ago. In 2005, 43,510 people were killed in road accidents.
Sadly, the increase in pedestrian deaths has also risen sharply, with an increase of 4.2 percent reported over the last 12 months, when almost all other types of traffic fatalities were still decreasing. The NHTSA plans to release more detailed reports regarding accidents involving bicycles, motorcycles and large trucks in the near future.
The figures quoted by the NHTSA don’t include off-road fatal accidents. Nor do they include anyone who died more than 30 days after the traffic accident occurred. The statistics only relate to:
- An accident in which at least one motor vehicle was involved
- The motor vehicle must have been on a designated traffic way
- At least one or more of the accident victims’ deaths would have to be confirmed within 30 days of the crash
Whatever the reasons for the increase in road deaths and however they’re calculated, the current increase in traffic fatalities is giving rise to serious concerns among those responsible for making American roads safer. Only time will tell if 2012 ends up being the year that tragically reversed the positive trends experienced over the past six years.
Portland personal injury attorneys welcome any measure that will make Oregon roads safer. All too frequently, they are called upon to represent someone who has lost a family member in a traffic accident caused by someone else’s negligence.
Those left behind face devastation on a number of levels—emotional, psychological and financial, as well as the many people who sustain severe physical injuries in the same accident that claimed the loved one.
If you have lost a member of your family in such an accident, it’s important that you take steps to secure your family’s future as best you can. Speak to a compassionate and understanding Portland wrongful death attorney with experience in handling claims involving fatal Oregon traffic accidents. They will listen to your story and explain your rights under Oregon law. Then, they will fight to get you and your family the compensation you deserve and that you will need for a secure financial future.