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New national data shows increase in car accident fatalities

You wouldn't necessarily realize it if you regularly drive in Chicago traffic, but traffic fatality rates nationwide have been either decreasing or holding steady since about 2005. Unfortunately, the latest figures from 2012 show that we are now heading in the opposite direction and car accident fatality rates are again beginning to rise.

According to data released by the National Safety Council, there were approximately 36,200 crash fatalities on American roads and highways in 2012. This figure marks a 5-percent increase from the previous year.

Those who have analyzed the statistics say that the increase is likely the result of three factors: an improving economy, a mild 2012 winter and an increase in distracted driving. As the economy improves, Americans tend to drive more and are therefore more likely to be involved in a crash. Meanwhile, texting and other forms of distracted driving are offsetting any benefits we might be seeing from things like new vehicle safety technology and better road design.

It is interesting to note that data from the NSC shows a higher crash fatality rate than statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What explains the disparity? The NHTSA report accounts for deaths that occur either immediately or within 30 days of a car accident. The NSC continues to track deaths that occur up to a year after a car accident.

In many ways, the NSC's approach is arguably more accurate, because it recognizes that victims of motor vehicle accidents may suffer for many weeks or months before ultimately passing away or recovering. This is especially true with victims of truck accidents. The sheer force of such collisions is often enough to leave accident victims in a coma.

It is sad to see that after so many years of declining fatality rates, car accident deaths are again on the rise. Hopefully, these statistics will prompt legislators and law enforcement to crack down on distracted driving, while reminding the rest of us to use more caution behind the wheel.

Source: L.A. Times, "Crash-related deaths up for first time since 2005, report says," David Undercoffler, Feb. 20, 2013

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