Recent federal statistics confirmed that last year brought the first rise in the number of motor vehicle fatalities nationwide since 2005.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 33,561 deaths relating to roadway crashes in 2012 compared to 32,479 deaths in 2011. The increase of 1,082 deaths signified a 3.3 percent rise compared to 2011, the first rise in a near-decade.

But perhaps the most disturbing news is that crashes occurring as a result of "distracted driving" increased by 9% from 2011 to 2012, and, the fatality count for 2012 was 5.3 percent higher.

NHTSA also outlined shifts in the makeup of that fatality count since 2003: the proportion of deaths of occupants in a passenger vehicle shrunk since then, though the proportion in the deaths of motorcyclists and nonoccupants both grew.

Traffic fatalities are the most common cause of death for people between 5 and 34 years old, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).


U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement that while federal authorities have shown “substantial progress” in fighting roadway fatalities, which hit a 60-year low in 2011, “it’s clear that we have much more work to do.”

“As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation,” he said.

One emerging issue is distracted driving, one of the nation’s most visible public safety issues in recent years. Traffic safety groups, automakers, car insurers and federal entities alike have joined in a comprehensive effort to reduce distractions behind the wheel, to varying success.

In its latest report, the NHTSA said that fatalities from “distraction-affected crashes” kept mostly level between 2011 and 2012, falling by 32 deaths, from 3,360 to 3,328. However, the number of injuries from those crashes jumped 9 percent, from 387,000 in 2011 to 421,000 in 2012.

“NHTSA is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents, and is continuing work to improve the way it captures data to better quantify and identify potential trends in this area,” the agency said.