WASHINGTON – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has projected traffic fatalities for the first quarter of 2012, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), showing an increase of 13.5% over the first quarter of 2011. Total fatalities were 7,630 during Q1 2012 compared to 6,720 in Q1 2011.

To put this in context, although this is a significant jump, estimates for 2011 traffic fatalities were at a 60-year low and are part of a historic downward trend over the past few years. For example, fatalities during Q1 2011 declined by about 30% since 2006 (from 9,558 fatalities in 2006 to a projected 6,720 fatalities in 2011).

An analysis of the recent decline in fatalities that began in 2008 showed a significant reason for the decline was due to fewer crashes involving young drivers, according to NHTSA.

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the U.S. during Q1 of 2012 increased by 9.7 billion miles over 2011, about 1.4%. The fatality rate for Q1 2012 increased to 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 0.98 fatalities per 100 million VMT in Q1 2011. According to NHTSA, this is the second-largest year-to-year quarterly increase since 1979.

NHTSA noted that traffic fatalities are generally lower during the first quarter of the year, at least partially due to winter weather (weather that prevents people from driving), than during the other three quarters. That said, temperatures were much warmer during Q1 2012 when compared with past years, which NHTSA said could explain the increase in fatalities.

You can view safety tips for driving during the busy summer season here.