Traffic deaths had reached their lowest point in 60 years, after 6 consecutive years of decline, but have substantially increased in the first half of 2012., according to The Washington Post:
Highway safety experts were at a loss to explain why, but most speculated that rebounding economic confidence may have put more people on the roads.
“Traffic deaths drop in a recession, sometimes significantly,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “People who lose their jobs or are worried they may lose them don’t take as many optional trips, like driving at night or on weekends or going to parties or the bars. Once the economy improves, that driving comes back.”
The number of roadway fatalities jumped 13.4 percent in the first three months of this year, and the total for April, May and June was 5.3 percent higher than in 2011. For the six-month period, 16,290 people were killed, 1,340 more than during the same time frame last year.
Although the recession has been seen as a factor, the decline in traffic fatalities began before the economic turmoil. After 43,510 people were killed in 2005, the number dropped each year until it reached 32,310 last year.
Increased use of seat belts, greater awareness of drunken driving, better highway design, installation of air bags and other auto-safety improvements were given credit for the decline.
Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that the jump in fatalities is cause for concern, but she cautioned that half a year’s data don’t constitute a trend.
“If there are increases over a three- or five-year period, then it’s time to take a second look at what is being done and retool,” Harsha said. “It’s extremely difficult to maintain steady decreases over time, and the increase is not unexpected.”
She shared Rader’s assessment that people do more discretionary driving and get into more accidents as the economy improves.
But since the total number of miles people are driving “went up only 1.2 percent, the economy isn’t the whole answer to the puzzle,” Harsha said.
“The warm winter may also have contributed to the increase, because it meant a longer riding season for motorcyclists, more walking and biking,” she added.