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Maine Traffic Fatalities Increase Over Twenty Percent in 2012

Thumbnail image for file5491276601164.jpgIn October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released preliminary national fatality estimates for the first six months of 2012. Compared with the corresponding months for 2011, the United States had seen a 9 percent increase in deaths. In December, NHTSA released comparison data estimates through September 2012. These preliminary figures depicted a 7.1 percent increase in fatalities from the prior year, representing the largest percentage of increase, comparatively speaking, since 1975. This disturbing news has safety officials scrambling to find an explanation, especially since the United States, as a whole, has shown a steadily decreasing trend in traffic fatalities since 2005.

Unfortunately, Maine has not been immune from this 2012 phenomenon, and sadly, this has been confirmed in a recent Bangor Daily News article citing 164 traffic deaths in our state during 2012, representing a startling 20.58% increase in traffic deaths compared to 2011.

The graph below represents traffic fatalities for our state over the last six years:
Chart copy1.jpgTraffic deaths in the United States have been steadily decreasing for the past six years. Maine has not experienced the same steady decline in fatalities over the last six years. However, our roads are safer today than they were ten years ago. As with the nation, 2011 was also one of the safest years on record in Maine, representing the lowest fatality count in over 50 years! Between 2010 and 2011 our state’s highway fatalities decreased 16 percent. And then the pendulum swung the other way.

Nationally, safety officials have been quick to caution against using 2011’s statistics as a baseline for comparison. Maine accident attorneys at Briggs & Wholey do not agree with that sentiment. We should not regard one of the safest years on record as an anomaly, and exempt it from comparison- nationally or at the state level. In fact, our attorneys argue that 2011 should be used as “the” benchmark from which to formulate new safety initiatives and compare future trends.

So what happened? Many of these accident fatalities and injuries were caused by disregard of the most basic driver responsibilities; wearing a seat belt, being fit to drive, obeying speed limits and traffic regulations and avoiding distracted driving. Final federal analysis will take some time, however we have some answers at the state level.

Bangor Daily News reporter, Nok-Noi Ricker, offers insight in her report when interviewing Director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, Lauren Stewart. “I can tell you [almost] all of these crashes were preventable,” Stewart said. “Forty to 45 percent were not wearing a seat belt in these fatal crashes and illegal or unsafe speeds played a role as well. They’re definitely preventable.” She went on to say that “A total of 73 of the 164 highway deaths in 2012, or about 44 percent, involved speeders or those going too fast for road conditions.”

There were fatalities involving 23 motorcyclists, 9 pedestrians, and 14 teens between 16 to 19 years of age. According to the article, fatalities for persons aged 18 to 27 increased 50 percent, largely due to lack of seat belt use and speed. Speed has been a recurring problem. In 2010, excessive speed contributed to 51 percent of Maine’s fatalities. Clearly, we can improve upon these statistics and make dramatic progress towards safer travel.

The advent of each New Year is often marked as a time of reflection and renewed resolve. As we reflect upon the past year, we cannot help but be inspired by the courage of the families we’ve assisted during times of crisis, and further motivated to do our part in preventing unnecessary injury. To this end, we are resolved to spotlight traffic safety issues in the coming year, in an effort to increase awareness and reduce fatalities.

Additional Resources:
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811680.pdf
http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/02/news/state/maine-road-deaths-increased-to-164-in-2012/ by Nok-Noi Ricker http://www.maine.gov/dps/bhs/crash-data/stats/off-roads.html
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811706.pdf

Photo Credit: Schick, Morguefile