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US Traffic Fatalities on the Rise
Traffic picks up along with the fatality rate during the first quarter of the year.

Traffic accident
More people are hitting the roads as the economy sees a slight improvement, but that has a downside when it comes to safety. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures released Tuesday, the months of January through March saw an increase in the vehicle fatality rate from 0.98 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.10 -- a 12.2 percent increase.

"If these projections for the first quarter of 2012 are realized, it will represent the second largest year-to-year quarterly increase in fatalities since NHTSA began recording traffic fatalities (1975)," NHTSA explained in its latest Traffic Safety Facts publication.

Though traffic volumes have increased, they were only up 1.4 percent between January and March of this year compared to the same period in 2011. Traffic is continuing to rise, according to the latest available Federal Highway Administration figures, Americans traveled 258.4 billion miles in May, a 2.3 increase from the previous year. The moving twelve-month average traffic volume for May remains in negative territory. At 2.945 trillion, the figure is the lowest it has been since the 2.934 trillion level seen in 2004. NHTSA officials avoided the temptation use the numbers as an excuse to advance particular public policies.

"While it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any increase in deaths on our roadways, it should be noted that the historic downward trend in traffic fatalities in the past several years -- a pattern which has continued through the early estimates for 2011 released recently that show deaths at a 60-year low -- means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure," the agency explained. "It should be noted that 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."

The winter of 2012 averaged 36.8 degrees Farenheit across the US, making it the fourth warmest winter since 1896, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database.

The fatality rate remains significantly lower than it has been since 2008, and if the winter weather theory proves true, the rest of 2012 could still see a decline in overall accidents.

Source: PDF File Traffic Safety Facts (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 7/24/2012)

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