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The aftermath of a devastating car accident. (Credit: E... The aftermath of a devastating car accident. (Credit: ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd., Flickr)
Traffic fatalities in 2011 dropped to their lowest level since 1949, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday, but showed a disturbing trend for environmentalists: As Americans rely on more green transportation (namely, bikes), there are more fatal crashes happening between two-wheeled vehicles and four-wheeled ones.

And there are other conflicting safety trends: Drunk driving accidents are down, but distracted driving crashes are on the rise. Overall traffic fatalities dropped 1.9 percent, to 32,367. In 1949, 32,246 people died in car crashes. Fatalities peaked in the early 1970s, when more than 50,000 people died several years in a row.

The 2011 decline came as the number of miles driven by motorists dropped by 1.2 percent. More people died in distraction-related crashes, up 1.9 percent compared with 2010, but that may not mean more people are texting while driving. NHTSA said the increase could be, in part, because more emergency responders are aware of the issue and are doing a better job reporting it.

Deaths of bicyclists and occupants of large trucks rose sharply last year even as total traffic fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1949, federal safety officials said Monday.

Bicyclist deaths jumped 8.7 percent and deaths of occupants of large trucks increased 20 percent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in an analysis of 2011 traffic deaths.

Overall traffic fatalities dropped 1.9 percent, to 32,367. The decline came as the number of miles driven by motorists dropped by 1.2 percent.

Last year also saw the lowest fatality rate ever recorded, with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011, down from 1.11 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010.

The increase in bicycle deaths probably reflects more people riding bicycles to work and for pleasure, said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies.

Washington, D.C., for example, reports a 175 percent increase in bicyclists during morning and evening rush hours since 2004. The city also tripled its bike lane network during the same period.

"Our culture is beginning to move away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportations," Adkins said. "We need to be able to accommodate all these forms of transportation safely."

The increase in deaths of large-truck occupants is more puzzling, but may be due to more trucks returning to the road as the economy improves, he said.

"There are more questions than answers about what is occurring here," Adkins said. NHTSA said the agency is working with the Federal Motor Carrier Administration to gather more information to better understand the reason for the increase.

Motorcycle deaths also rose 2.1 percent, marking the 13th time in the last 14 years that motorcycle rider deaths have risen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I expected the increase in truck driver fatalities when DOT no longer allowed truckers to split their sleeper time. OTR drivers always drove when rested and sleep as needed. Requiring drivers to take sleep time in one chunk of time forces drivers into a dangerous work pattern. I have drove over the road in the past and maintain my CDL and med card. Going back to over the road driving is no longer an option. I'd rather be a Walmart greeter than drive under the new regulations.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm not surprised at all. I see cyclists ignore traffic laws at every turn, and here in Philly bikes are rarely if ever the target of enforcement. They ignore bike lanes, weave through traffic, blow through red lights and crosswalks, ride on sidewalks, ride the wrong way down one-way streets, talk & text while riding, the list goes on and on...
        • 2 Years Ago
        I live in Philly to I agree with you but god help you if you hit one of these asses that think they are the only ones on the road!! The rules of the road need to be both ways no one, bike or car should blow a trffic light!
      • 2 Years Ago
      You are driving, see some one on a bike,now you should slow first,that person can come in your labne in a sec.
      • 2 Years Ago
      thats what happens when gas is so expensive less car accidents more bike accidents
      • 2 Years Ago
      Perhaps motor cycle manufacturers can install a headlight that displays a moving beam so it kind of bounces as the cycle moves. This would attract the attention of drivers as the single headlight sometimes can seem like the reflection of the sun off some other vehicle.
      Shelley Educator
      • 2 Years Ago
      Bike riders beleive they own the road and go over their lines to ride next to their partners. They do not consider that There is no competition with a 35,000 pound car and a 200 bike and person. It is not easy for a car to just stop when going 50 miles per hour on hte highway, to avoid a bike rider, or risk going into traffic in the other lane. I agree with Janka, they should not be ridden on narrow highways like PCH that in some places do not even hav bike lanes. They must love the fear of it all, how crazy to ride in heavy traffic without a sheet of metal around them.
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's just like with motorcycles. "I didn't see them" is the typical excuse. Well if you're not actually thinking of a bicycle or a motorcycle, and most people aren't, you're far less likely to notice one.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Its bad enough when people cant seem to see bikers on the road, but now with people texting while driving, makes it far worse. I rode for years until a freak accident shattered one of my knees. I do know that while riding you can never let your guard down and just enjoy the ride anymore. Even when riding in large numbers, there are those who show no consideration for bikers. Just yesterday I was driving in my Chevy HHR when some woman in a large white SUV crossed over into my lane heading straight on towards us. I laid on the horn and came to a complete stop, prepared to run off the road before she finally stopped what she was doing and got back into her lane.
      • 2 Years Ago
      if we are to get away from oil then our gov needs to put in more bike trail and walking trails connecting all the towns and cities---if people had a safe path to do this on then Im sure fatalities would be down and more people would use them-----I love bike rides but its way to dangerous no matter how safe bikers try to be------
      • 2 Years Ago
      anyone in California knows... people drive like there the only ones out there and motoe cylcle may need repect but they have to repect the road also and sometimes fast and in front of everyone is not ok... more and more bad drivers on the road and more and more police enforcers do nothing.. so many things in my opion are only worse by choice if people would be nice follow the laws of the road and look around like there are others out there with them it would really be alot safer
      • 2 Years Ago
      bicycle riders are stupid to get on a road with heavy traffic and they cause traffic problems but they don't care and thats why they get run over because they are a nuisance on main roads and most roads for that matter
      • 2 Years Ago
      Bicycle or motorcycle VS Car=car always wins,that's why when you are the biker,you have to be extra alert.
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