After declining rates, fatalities on the rise for first three months of 2012.

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After declining rates, fatalities on the rise for first three months of 2012.

— The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced their projection of traffic fatalities for the first quarter of 2012 and it's not good news for U.S. travelers.

The new report shows an estimated 7,630 people died in traffic crashes, a significant increase of about 13.5 percent as compared to the 6,720 fatalities that were projected to have occurred in the first quarter of 2011.

In 2011, fatalities are projected to have declined in all four quarters.

However, if these projections for the first quarter of 2012 are correct, it will represent the second largest year-to-year quarterly increase in fatalities since the government began recording traffic fatalities in 1975.

The largest recorded year-to-year quarterly increase was a 15.3 percent increase in fatalities during the first quarter of 1979.

Automakers have placed an emphasis on technology to reduce both traffic crashes and injuries, so how could fatalities be soaring?

One reason might be that the Federal Highway Administration estimates in the first three months of 2012, the miles traveled on roads increased by 1.4 percent, or 9.7 billion miles.

NHTSA also noted the historic downward trend in traffic fatalities in the past several years means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure.

In fact, fatalities during the first quarter of the year have declined by about 30 percent from 2006 to 2011, from 9,558 fatalities in 2006 to a projected 6,720 fatalities in 2011.

Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said she was disappointed in the news, but not particularly surprised.

"As NHTSA notes, unprecedented gains have been made since 2006 in reducing traffic deaths," Harsha said.  "So, from that low baseline, an increase is not unexpected.  While it is too early to draw conclusions about the data and the reasons for the increase, the strengthening economy and the warm winter may be factors."

Fatality estimates are revised as more data becomes available and may change the fatality rates.  NHTSA will release projections for the first half of 2012 in early September.

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