Traffic deaths fell in 2011, but numbers for 2012 look grim

John Egan

In 2011, America’s roadways were safer than they’ve been since Harry S. Truman was president.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Dec. 10 that 32,367 traffic deaths – involving motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians – were reported in 2011, the lowest level since 1949. The 2011 figure represented a nearly 2 percent decrease from 2010.

“The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving and driver distraction.”

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a statement reported by NBC News: “The long-term trend is that fatality rates are falling, mainly because of safer vehicles. People are walking away from crashes today that they wouldn’t have survived 20 years ago."

While the number of traffic deaths declined in 2011, federal statistics show traffic deaths are on the upswing in 2012. An estimated 16,290 people died in traffic crashes during the first half of the 2012, up 9 percent from the same period in 2011. Officials offer a partial explanation for this year’s spike in traffic deaths: An improving economy has prompted motorists to log more miles on the road.

Other 2011 statistics released by NHTSA include:

  • Deaths among occupants of large trucks climbed 20 percent compared with 2010.
  • Bicyclist deaths jumped 8.7 percent.
  • Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped 2.5 percent. Last year, 9,878 people died in drunk driving accidents, down from 10,136 in 2010.
  • Pedestrian deaths rose 3 percent.
  • Motorcyclist deaths increased 2.1 percent.
  • Deaths in distraction-related crashes rose 1.9 percent. NHTSA attributes the increase, in part, to increased awareness and reporting of distraction-related mishaps.

In a statement, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said: “Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year.”

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