Largest 6-month increase in fatal crashes in NHTSA’s history

According to a release from NHTSA (“Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for The First Half (January–June) of 2012“); “The estimated 9.0-percent increase during the first half of 2012 represents the largest such increase during the first half of the year in recorded history (since 1975—the first year when NHTSA started collecting data on such crashes).”

While NHTSA also stated that “…it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any increase in deaths on our roadways…” some traffic safety professionals and journalists have speculated on possible contributing factors:  increasing congestion from commuters and increased freight; road construction adding to congestion; difficulty in finding the most highly qualified drivers, etc.  In fact, a recent NY Times article states; “The improvement in the economy, relative to the first half of 2011, is also considered a major factor in the spike.”

[Update to article] I’d argue that considering the economy makes sense, based on a 2010 study done by NHSTA titled “An Analysis of the Significant Decline in Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2008“.  In that study (which offers a lot of interesting analysis) there is a compelling graph illustrating the past trends in crash data by year:

Figure 10: Percentage Change in Fatal Multiple Vehicle Crashes and Percentage Change in Fatal Crashes Involving Young Drivers, 1975 to 2008

The Times article also mentioned; “The federal estimates showed that fatalities increased for the first three months of this year by 13.4 percent compared with the same period in 2011, suggesting to some road safety experts that weather may have played a role. In a mild winter like the one experienced in many areas of the country this year, people tend to drive more.”  However, winters with greater frequency and severity of storms also contribute to crash rates with more rain, fog, snow, sleet and ice.  It seems to be a leap of logic to attribute mild weather with worsening crash rates due to mileage alone.

The article also contributed this statement; “…others involved in traffic safety attributed the historical six-year decline in the fatality rate to improvements like safer vehicles and roads; more effective laws, like graduated driver licensing laws that govern teenage driving; better technology, like electronic stability control; and awareness efforts that, among other things, have led to increased use of seat belts.”  Interestingly, the contribution of these engineered changes didn’t disappear on January 1st, 2012 — so why are crashes going up despite these technological advancements which remain in place? 

  • Could it be driver habits and operations teams pushing drivers to increase productivity through telematics tracking? 
  • Could it be drivers rushing and forgetting basic courtesies as they push themselves? 
  • What can be done to isolate the trends, diagnose the issues and provide a positive and caring response to drivers so that they avoid violations, injuries or worse?

It’s a perplexing situation for commercial fleet managers and corporate safety directors who have had historically low crash rates for several years and are now confronted with a sudden and measurable increase in collisions.  Reactions have ranged from investigating new safety programs to launching massive refresher training programs for all drivers. 

I strongly suspect; however, that the answer lies in re-dedicating the organization to skillfully mastering the basics — exhibiting discipline to do the mundane instead of surrendering to the “glitzy, flashy and sizzling” allure of “what’s new”.  Driver qualification, driver monitoring, crash investigation and vehicle maintenance aren’t glamorous, but essential.  

SafetyFirst can help you rekindle your managerial discipline, too.  Most fleet clients don’t realize that we have more experience in fleet safety than our competitors — by who we hire (and their professional backgrounds) and in working with clients on real-world, practical solutions (instead of snazzy, one-size-fits-all-but-works-poorly “packages”). 

Remember, “generic packaged products” (which are simply off the shelf solutions daisy chained together from multiple vendors using least common denominator IT support and marketed by a boiler-room telemarking firm located in “Number Blocked, USA”) get you “generic results” (at best).  It wouldn’t surprise me if their profit margins are inflated by meaningless features that look good in sales brochure, but never actually get utilized by the client who is left wondering, “what did I actually buy?” and “where are the results?”

In a time of historic shifts in crash rates, “generic” isn’t where I’d invest my time and money — I’d want to custom tailor my program to my unique fleet operation using the expertise of fleet safety professionals who will stand by their product offerings with a track record of crash reduction results that are unparalleled.

At our discussion group on many fleet safety experts, insurance professionals and corporate risk managers are discussing their plans for the coming two years, what impact the elections may have on results and whether it’s time for a new approach to curtail loss activity.  Why not join the conversation?  We’d appreciate fresh insights, and you may pick up some tips from our industry’s brightest minds.

To visit our group, check out this link —

To visit our company home page at —

4 thoughts on “Largest 6-month increase in fatal crashes in NHTSA’s history

  1. Why does there always have to be a reason for increased road fatalities? Random statistical fluctuations will give you good years and bad years, all things being equal.

    • Hmmm. Interesting idea. I suppose I wouldn’t agree that all things are equal between this reporting period and one year prior (largest increase on record); therefore, I would like to see what has changed and whether we can affect those conditions/practices to save lives and reduce or mitigate injuries going forward. Also, the magnitude of the change and the duration of the trend begs the question “could we do better, and if yes, how?” “An Analysis of the Significant Decline in Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2008” provides additional food for thought that driver-population performance is largely deterministic and therefore rationally predictable.

  2. Pingback: Per Nat’l Safety Council — Motor-vehicle deaths up 5% in 2012 | Safety Is My Goal's Blog

  3. Pingback: The Increasing Urgency of Driver Safety | Safety Is My Goal's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s