Traffic fatalities last year saw first increase since 2005

Traffic backs up on the outer loop of the Beltway after an accident. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) Traffic backs up on the outer loop of the Beltway after an accident. Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Traffic fatalities increased last year, for the first time since 2005, with 1,802 more deaths than 2011, according to data released Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA said many lives could have been saved if people were wearing seat belts, and in releasing the data the agency’s administrator, David Strickland, said optional seat belt interlocks would be introduced, devices that would require all seat belts be fastened before a vehicle could be started.

Nationwide, 33,561 people were killed on the roadway in 2012, an increase driven in significant part by deaths of motorcyclists and pedestrians.

All three of the Washington region’s jurisdictions saw decreases in fatalities. Virginia saw a 7.5 percent drop, the District had a 5 percent decline, and deaths in Maryland were down by less than 1 percent.

“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.”

NHTSA said U.S. drivers drove about the same number of miles in 2012 as they did the previous year.

NHTSA listed the following key statistics from last year:

◾Fatalities among pedestrians increased for the third consecutive year (6.4 percent increase over 2011). The data showed the large majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban areas, at non-intersections, at night and many involved alcohol.

◾Motorcycle rider fatalities increased for the third consecutive year (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 (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 is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents, and 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 that died were unrestrained.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.

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Ashley Halsey III · November 14, 2013

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