Traffic fatalities appear to be resuming their steady decline after a one-year increase that alarmed some experts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported recently that estimated crash deaths for the first half of this year fell by 4.2 percent when compared with the same period in 2012. An estimated 15,470 highway deaths occurred in the U.S. from January through June of this year.
The estimated fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled also fell, to 1.06, down from 1.1 in the first half of last year.
In Pennsylvania, preliminary figures show an estimated 534 people died in crashes during the first half of this year, compared with 624 in the same period last year.
The state, like the nation, saw an increase in fatalities in 2012, up nearly 2 percent to 1,310, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The fatality rate was 1.31 per 100 million miles, well above the estimated national rate of 1.14 for 2012.
U.S. traffic deaths as estimated by NHTSA jumped 4.4 percent in 2012, the first increase since 2005, causing some to wonder whether a long downward trend was reversing. Total fatalities over that time have dropped by 22 percent, from 43,510 to an estimated 33,780 in 2012.
"While it's too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any decrease in deaths on our roadways, NHTSA is pleased in the apparent decline in fatalities over the early estimates released for 2012," said an agency spokeswoman who asked not to be identified.
"It's good news and it's a little bit surprising because the economy has been a little bit better," said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. When people have additional disposable income, they tend to travel at more dangerous times rather than only to work and back, he said.
"Hopefully it means that 2012 was just a blip in a long period of decreases," Mr. Adkins said.
Many factors have contributed to the steady decline in traffic fatalities since 2005, but increased seat belt use "is probably the most significant," he said. Drunken driving has decreased, vehicles are safer and roads are better, he said.