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2011 accident fatality statistics: Safer for some, not for others

The NHTSA released 2011 accident fatality numbers this week, showing promising numbers overall yet significant new challenges.

According to their analysis, overall traffic fatalities are down 1.9 percent from last year. In fact, there were only 1.10 deaths per 100 miles driven, which is the United State's lowest fatality rate since it started recording these numbers decades ago.

Progress comes at a cost, however. While the number of car accident fatalities has dropped, the number of bicycle accident fatalities has skyrocketed -- up 8.7 percent from last year. More shocking yet is the number of truck occupant fatalities, which increased 20 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Why the disparity?

It shouldn't be surprising that the first thing the NHTSA did was to question these statistics. Why was there such a dramatic increase in two areas when there was an overall increase in safety? Possible reasoning for the increase in bicycle accident deaths is a change in culture, "away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportation," the deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association said.

Yet, there is no similar explanation for trucks. The NHTSA has already begun to work with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to find out what could have caused the increase. Note: the increase in truck accident fatalities applies to the occupants of the trucks themselves, not to occupants of other vehicles hit by trucks.

Whatever the cause, it is obvious the U.S. has some work to do. Trucks are some of the largest vehicles on our roads, yet they are in a significant number of accidents every year, many caused by the way the trucks are designed and the way they are driven. And we will see more trucks on the road as the economy improves.

The number of bicycles on the road is also increasing. While some cities have created safe biking initiatives, others do not have any safe means for bicyclists to commute. More must be done to increase bicycle safety and driver awareness. This is a recurring problem seen in the number of bicyclists and motorcyclists injured every year (there has also been an increase in motorcycle accidents).

Perhaps the 2011 fatality statistics will convince local, state and national governments to act on improving safety for bicyclists and truckers. We can hope that in future years, studies will show a drop in all forms of fatal accidents.

Source: The Washington Post, "Bicycle, large truck deaths rose sharply last year even as total traffic fatalities dropped," Associated Press, Dec. 10, 2012

Did you lose a loved one in a bicycle or truck accident? Please visit our pages on motor vehicle accidents.

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