Less than two weeks ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2011 traffic fatalities had declined by nearly 2 percent – to the lowest level in more than six decades. Now comes word that the first nine months of 2012 haven't been nearly as positive. According to the government agency's preliminary estimates, traffic deaths through September of this year have risen 7.1 percent when compared to last year's figures – the largest increase for that calendar period since NHTSA began keeping records.

Safety experts point out that US vehicle miles traveled from January 2012 through September 2012 increased by 14.6 billion miles (a 0.6-percent rise) over the same period last year. Those adding up the numbers say that many factors are to blame. Warm weather also increases the quantity of motorcyclists on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalks. A drop in gas prices and an improved economy also means consumers are more likely to drive outside of their daily commute.

Ending on a positive note, today's estimated fatality rate of 1.16 deaths per 100 million miles traveled is still down 21 percent when compared its recent high of 1.45 deaths per 100 million miles in 2005.

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