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Rescue crews from four departments respond to a deadly ... Rescue crews from four departments respond to a deadly two-vehicle crash along the Shenango Valley Freeway, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 in Sharon, Pa. Two high school football players died Friday night in the crash that also killed a third person, according to state high school sports officials. (AP photo).
The number of Americans killed in traffic accidents increased in 2012 for the first time in seven years.

Traffic fatalities climbed 3.3 percent to 33,561 last year, according to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday morning, an average of 91.1 Americans per day, according to an AOL Autos calculation. It's the first increase since 2005.

"While we've made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it's clear that we have much more work to do," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a written statement.

Preliminary data had shown an increase in fatalities through the first half of 2012, so the increase was somewhat expected. Yet there were other concerning developments.

More than 2.3 million Americans were injured in accidents, an increase of 145,000 over the previous year. NHTSA says it's the first "statistically significant" rise in injuries in 17 years.

NHTSA chief administrator David Strickland announced an initiative that would take a three-pronged approach to fast-tracking technology that could cut the number of deaths and injuries, advocating interlocking seatbelts, which could prevent cars from being driven if occupants are not buckled, an alcohol-detection system for drivers that is at least five years from being implemented and forward-collision avoidance and mitigation technology.

Those systems benefit drivers, but not the people outside the vehicle, who saw the biggest increases in fatalities last year. Pedestrian deaths rose 6.4 percent, increasing for the third straight year. Bicyclist deaths increased 6.5 percent, increasing for the third straight year.

Motorcyclist deaths rose 7.1 percent, jumping to 4,743, which accounted for 15 percent of the total number of traffic deaths. Ten times as many motorcyclists died riding without helmets in states that do not require their use than in states with such laws, NHTSA said. More than 93,000 motorcyclists were injured.

"We've built crash-worthy motor vehicles, and the number of drivers dying will move toward zero with all the technology coming," said Mark Plotz, senior associate at The National Center For Biking and Walking. "The problem we haven't solved is, 'what about the people out there without crash cages?''"

While many may blame cell-phone-addled drivers for the rise in deaths that occur beyond the car, the statistics for 2012 portray a muddled message: The number of distracted-driving deaths ticked down 1 percent to 3,328, yet the number of distracted-driving injuries jumped 9 percent.

Other concerning numbers: The number of alcohol-related fatalities climbed 4.6 percent last year, and alcohol-related deaths account for 31 percent of overall fatalities. The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration of .15 or higher, NHTSA said.

Occupants of large trucks saw death rates rise for the third consecutive year, increasing 8.9 percent year over year in 2012.

Though the report had some grim statistics, there were pockets of good news, too.

Thirteen states saw reductions in overall traffic fatalities, including Mississippi, which had 48 fewer traffic deaths, the biggest improvement in the United States. Eighteen states saw decreases in drunk-driving deaths, led by New Jersey, which had 30 fewer such deaths.

Preliminary data for 2013 shows that overall traffic fatalities rates fell 4.2 percent during the first half of the year.

While most age groupings showed an increase in fatalities in 2012, teen drivers saw an overall decrease. Death among 10-to-15-year-olds decreased 3.9 percent and those ages 16 to 20 saw a drop of 5.7 percent. And while alcohol-related deaths increased overall, they fell 15 percent among the 16-to-20-year-olds year over year.

Plotz sees that as evidence that graduated-drivers-license programs adopted by many states are effective and working, which leaves him wishing for some sort of expansion of education and testing programs.

"Those GDLs that most states have moved to are very effective," he said. "Overall, we need to get more serious. ... We've done a lot with improving cars, but not improving drivers."

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      The more gadgets and buttons, the more people are distracted.
      • 1 Year Ago
      The large part of the problem is the states do not have stricter drunk driving laws. Kids and adults a like texting, talking on their cell phones like they are on the couch in the living room. Another problem is the illegal aliens that drive without benefit of the English language. Increase the penalties for drunk driving and texting and the deaths will go down.
      • 1 Year Ago
      It is not cell phones the states and counties have less money to fix roads and build new ones and we have a lot more people on the roads more than they were built for.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Small cars made of plastic hit by larger cars made of steel.
      Hello Mark
      • 1 Year Ago
      Just got back from Europe Vacation. Had a rental car for six days, mostly in Germany. No cup holders in cars, fines for eating/drinking. No cell phone/texting-fines if caught! Guess What - EVERYBODY was paying attention to what they were supposed to be paying attention to when they got behind the wheel..Too Simple ! No one was distracted because they were focused on driving !! No road rage! Never saw anyone shake their fist or come unglued. No one texting, etc. Horns honked when necessary but not much and everyone "played together" as they should......
      • 1 Year Ago
      "We've done a lot with improving cars, but not improving drivers." No kidding. No state effectively tests driving skills or holds drivers accountable for actually using the skills required for safe vehicle operation. We focus on handing out speeding tickets and rally around the "speed kills" myth. When it's really just bad driving that kills. Have you EVER heard of anyone being cited for failing to signal a turn? I haven't. Until we get serious about driver training, testing, and licensing, we'll never approach a zero injury/fatality rate no matter how crash-worthy our cars are. I'd wager a full 40% of currently licensed drivers are not competent to operate any type of motor vehicle. Get the unqualified drivers off the roads and then we'll see dramatic improvements in our accident and death rates! (Of course, it'll never happen because that would cut into the automakers' and oil companies' sales. . . ) I'm highly suspicious of the interpretation of "distracted driving" stats here. For one thing, I have little faith that accidents are accurately assessed. Many accidents which are caused by cell phone users are likely not correctly attributed to cell phone use - often because police/investigators are brainwashed into attributing virtually every crash to "excessive speed." In traffic, insufficient speed is often what really causes accidents. As with virtually any "accident," car crashes are virtually always caused by one thing: stupidity. Or, if you prefer, a failure to pay attention. In other words, distracted driving.
      • 1 Year Ago
      common sense is gone… we text, talk, eat, apply makeup, deal with unrestrained pets, kids etc.. we push endless numbers of buttons, switches and watch monitors and navigation devices … all while negotiating heavy traffic… it is exacerbated by the fact the idiots on the road next to you are doing the exact same thing. even though cars are safer… people are dumber… you can't engineer your way out of stupidity…
        • 1 Year Ago
        Hey you forgot to mention how everyone has the need to tailgate everyone else on the highway despite the fact that there is a line of cars ahead all tailgating each other at a high rate of speed and none of them is far enough back to prevent rear ending the car in front or avoid being rear ended by the guy behind them. All of the aforementioned combined with the now ever fashionable NASCAR driving techniques of tail gating while serving from side to side, taking corners so tight that you enter into the lane next to you or even the oncoming lane of traffic, passing and cutting in so close to the car your passing that the driver of the car being passed has to hit his brakes or risk getting hit and then immediately standing on the brakes so you don't rear end the slow moving truck that was in front of the car you just passed until you get swing out and cut another car off just so you can get one more car length ahead right before you take the off ramp...
      • 1 Year Ago
      Every time I read about what they're doing to make cars "safer" I feel like there's a professional torturer standing behind my shoulder. Somebody please put a bullet in my head before they bring them to market.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I see so many people on the interstate going at least 70mph looking at their cell phones.. If they want to kill themselves over stupid stuff that can wait, fine. Just don't take innocent people with you.
      James Walker
      • 1 Year Ago
      Occasional upticks in crashes are not unusual. What is clear is the overall downward trend over many decades. The fatality rate today is about one fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, and 50 years ago it was five fatalities per 100 million VMT. Driving is incredibly safe today compared to decades past. Note that the preliminary numbers for the first half of 2013 are substantially better. This indicates a normal fluctuation that occurs occasionally - both good and bad. Also note the high percentage of fatalities for drivers with a BAC of 0.15 or higher, what some states call the "super drunks". These are far out of proportion to the small number of those drivers, and effective campaigns against the super drunks will pay real dividends in safety. Using our scarce enforcement resources to collect "road taxes" in speed traps where the posted limits are set 10 to 20 mph below the actual and safe travel speeds of most motorists will pay virtually no safety dividends. Yet that is the foolish allocation of patrol resources we all see in many areas. Ticket revenue trumps actual gains in overall traffic safety and that is absolutely irresponsible governance. James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association
      • 1 Year Ago
      More and more everyday I see people run solid red lights and stop signs everywhere. They are weaving in and out of heavy traffic, cutting off cars and 18 wheelers; they pull in front of people who are almost on top of them; it just goes on and on. I don't know why there is such an increase of stupid, ignorant, aggressive jerks who think they're the only ones who matter or have to be anywhwere. I don't know how it stops. :(
      • 1 Year Ago
      Maybe a solution would be to have a motion detector in cell phones so that only 911 could be connected when ever it was detected that the phone was moving. No texting or talking when driving.
        • 1 Year Ago
        They have motion detectors in them now -- it be hard to use one if moving it shut it down though. It could use GPS to determine speed I suppose and shut down if going over a set speed. Conversely, it could call 911 for you if it went from 75 to 0 in under 3 seconds. :-)
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