Could the warmer winter of 2012 have contributed to an increase in traffic deaths, particularly among motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians? Final data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday suggest that might be the case.
The agency reported a 3.3 percent increase in U.S. traffic fatalities for the year, the first increase since 2005. For the year, 33,561 people were killed, an increase of 1,082 from 2011.
Seventy-two percent of the increase — 778 of the 1,082 deaths — came in the first quarter of the year, and over half of those deaths were motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-occupants of vehicles, the agency reported.
The agency noted that the first quarter of the year was also the warmest on record.
For the year, pedestrian deaths increased by 6.4 percent, to 4,743; bicyclist fatalities increased by 6.5 percent, to 726.
Of those killed in vehicles, 52 percent were not wearing seat belts.
Pennsylvania also saw an increase in traffic deaths for 2012, but at 1.9 percent it was smaller than the national increase. There were 1,310 fatalities, 24 more than in 2011. Of the total, 408, or 31 percent, resulted from drunken driving, NHTSA said.
The agency already has released estimated data for the first half of this year that suggest the 2012 increase might have been an anomaly. The estimate, subject to revision as more data is provided by the states, was that traffic deaths fell by 4.2 percent from January through June of this year.
Pennsylvania’s estimated fatalities also were down for the first half, 534 compared with 624 in January-June 2012, according to preliminary PennDOT figures.
Even with the 2012 increase, traffic fatalities have been on a long and mostly steady decline since peaking at more than 50,000 per year in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And, since 1963, the fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled has shrunk from 5.18 to 1.14, according to federal officials.