The number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased 5.3 percent last year, jumping to 34,080 deaths, according to a preliminary estimate made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's the first time in seven years the number has increased.
In 2011, traffic deaths had numbered 32,367. The increase had been somewhat expected, as motorists drove 0.3 percent more miles thanks to an improving economy in 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The rise in overall deaths is just one aspect of why experts are concerned.
Traffic deaths are increasing in every conceivable category. They increased in the Northeast (15 percent), South (10 percent) and West (9 percent). They increased in the winter, spring, summer and fall, according to NHTSA.
In recent weeks, we've learned the number of bicyclists killed on U.S. roads increased 9 percent to 677 deaths, according to the latest NHTSA data.
The number of pedestrian deaths has also increased, rising 4 percent to 4,280 deaths in the latest full year for which NHTSA had data, the first time the number has increased in five years. It's been a bloody decade for pedestrians overall: Between 2001 and 2010, a total of 47,392 Americans were killed in pedestrian accidents, according to the Centers For Disease Control.
(By comparison, the number of American military members who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,680 through May 6, according to the Department of Defense).
The number of distracted-driving deaths has increased 1.92 percent, killing 3,331 people in the latest year for which data is available, according to a Mortality and Morbidity Report compiled by the CDC.
The number of people dying on motorcycles is up. Way up. Approximately 5,000 motorcyclists died in 2012, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. That would make motorcyclist deaths 14.7 percent of overall traffic fatalities, the highest percentage ever.
"A comprehensive strategy is needed to keep motorcyclists safe," said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the GHSA. "Most crucial in this strategy are universal helmet laws, which 31 states currently lack."
NHTSA is looking to change some safety laws, and is looking for public input on those changes. To check out the proposed changes, follow this link.