An estimated 7,630 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2012, a 13.5 percent increase on the same period of 2011, according to analysis from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first three months of 2012 increased by about 9.7 billion miles. The fatality rate for the first quarter of 2012 increased significantly to 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 0.98 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first quarter of 2011.
The NHTSA says itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any increase in traffic deaths.
However, two key takeaways from the NHTSA report are:
Ã¢â‚¬“ The historic downward trend in traffic fatalities in the past several years Ã¢â‚¬“ a pattern which has continued through the early estimates for 2011 released recently that show deaths at a 60-year low Ã¢â‚¬“ means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure.
Ã¢â‚¬“ The rate for the first quarter each year is traditionally significantly lower than the rates for the other three quarters, potentially due to, but not restricted to, the effects of winter weather. However, the winter of 2012 was also unseasonably warmer than usual in most areas of the country. Consequently, the fatality rate for the first quarter should not be used to make inferences for the fatality rate for the whole of 2012.
A report over at CNN.com quotes a safety expert at the Automobile Association of America (AAA) agreeing that the warmer winter weather may have contributed to higher vehicle miles traveled and ultimately more fatal crashes.
AAA also tells CNN that more work needs to be done to improve driver safety.
More facts and statistics on highway safety from the I.I.I.