The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released the 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, indicating that highway deaths increased to 33,561 in 2012 -- 1,082 more fatalities than in 2011.
The majority of the increase in deaths, 72 percent, occurred in the first quarter of the year. Most of those involved were motorcyclists and pedestrians. (Click on page 2 of this story for a list of safety tips -- aimed at sharing the road with pedestrians and motorcyclists -- you can pass along to your drivers.)
While the newly released data confirms the first increase since 2005, highway deaths over the past five years continue to remain at historic lows. Fatalities in 2011 were at the lowest level since 1949. Even with this slight increase in 2012, the U.S. is still at the same level of road fatalities as 1950.
Early estimates on crash fatalities for the first half of 2013 indicate a decrease in deaths compared to the same timeframe in 2012, NHTSA said.
"Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year and while we've made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it's clear that we have much more work to do," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation."
While Americans drove approximately the same amount of miles in 2012 as in the previous year, the new FARS data released Nov. 14 showed a 3.3 percent increase in fatalities from the previous year. The final 2012 numbers confirm preliminary quarterly reports issued by the agency.
Other key 2012 statistics include:
- Fatalities among pedestrians increased for the third consecutive year -- a 6.4 percent increase over 2011. The data showed the large majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban areas, at non-intersections and at night. Many involved alcohol.
- Motorcycle rider fatalities increased for the third straight year -- a 7.1 percent increase over 2011. Ten times as many riders died not wearing a helmet in states without a universal helmet law than in states with such laws.
- Large-truck occupant fatalities increased for the third consecutive year – a 8.9 percent over 2011.
- Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent in 2012, taking 10,322 lives compared to 9,865 in 2011. The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or higher – nearly double the legal limit.
- The number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes decreased slightly from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328, while an estimated 421,000 people were injured -- a 9 percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011. NHTSA said it is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents, and the agency is continuing work to improve the way it captures data to better quantify and identify potential trends in this area.
- Nighttime seat belt use continues to be a challenge. In nighttime crashes in 2012, almost two-thirds of the people who died were unrestrained.
"As a public health and safety agency, any increase in the number of deaths is cause for concern. While we're seeing some unfortunate trends, we're also seeing progress in some parts of the country," said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland. "We will continue to work closely with our federal, state and local partners to change the way motorists behave on our roadways and build public awareness of key issues that have the potential to save many lives."
Thirteen states and Washington D.C. experienced reductions in overall traffic fatalities, led by Mississippi (48 fewer), New Jersey (38), Georgia (34), Alabama (30) and Utah (26). In addition, 18 states and Washington D.C. showed decreases in drunk driving deaths. New Jersey had the greatest decrease (30 fewer) followed by Colorado (27), Utah (20), Oklahoma (17) and Virginia (17).
View the final 2012 data.
View the preliminary 2013 data.
Here are some safety tips you can pass along to your fleet drivers to help prevent collisions with both motorcyclists and pedestrians.
Sharing the Road With Motorcyclists
- Never drive distracted. Doing so can result in tragic consequences for motorcyclists.
- Allow a motorcyclist a full lane width. Although it may seem that there is enough room in the traffic lane for a motor vehicle and a motorcycle, the motorcycle needs the room to maneuver safely. Do not share the lane.
- Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic. This allows motorcyclists to anticipate traffic flow and find a safe lane position.
- Because of its smaller size, a motorcycle can be hidden in a vehicle's blind spot. Always check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections.
- Turn signals on motorcycles are not the same as those on motor vehicles. Motorcycle signals are usually not self-canceling and riders sometimes forget to turn them off. Allow enough time to determine the motorcyclist's intention before you proceed.
- Remember that road conditions that are minor annoyances to motorists can pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Motorcycle riders may change speed or adjust position within a lane suddenly in reaction to road and traffic conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings and grooved pavement.
- Allow more following distance, three or four seconds, when following a motorcycle so the motorcycle rider has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.
Sharing the Road With Pedestrians
- Look out for pedestrians everywhere, at all times.
- Be especially vigilant for pedestrians in hard-to-see conditions, such as night time or in bad weather.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
- Always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and stop well back from the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they can stop too.
- Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. They may be stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the street.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Follow the speed limit, especially around pedestrians.
- Follow slower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where there are children present.