Traffic Fatalities on the Rise in Illinois and Nationwide

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 13.5 percent more fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2012 than during the same time frame in 2011. The number of fatalities jumped from 6,720 to 7,630 nationwide during Q1 of 2012. First quarter motor vehicle accident fatalities had been declining nationally since 2006, when there were 9,558 traffic deaths during the first three months of that year.

Illinois was no exception to the unfortunate upward trend. The Chicago Sun-Times reports a nine percent increase in Illinois traffic fatalities from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012. While the number of deaths in Illinois and across the nation is easy to ascertain, the reason for the increase is not quite so clear.

Potential Causes

While there are many theories attempting to explain the increase, none pinpoint a single cause for the uptick. The most widely held view is that though winter weather usually keeps first-quarter accidents low, warmer weather in January, February and March of 2012 enabled more drivers to get out on the road. Others speculate that the increase of cars on the road is a result of an improving economy. Either way, more cars on the road will inevitably result in more traffic accidents.

While these factors certainly contributed to the increase in traffic deaths, the Federal Highway Administration reported that drivers logged only 1.4 percent more miles during Q1 of 2012 than the same time period in 2011. One possible explanation for a 1.4 percent increase in miles travelled resulting in 13.5 percent more accidents is that driving in winter weather is naturally more dangerous.

Other factors potentially contributing to the increase in fatal accidents include impaired and distracted driving. Drunk driving accidents accounted for around 25 percent of Illinois' first quarter fatal crashes. About 10 percent involved drivers distracted by phone calls and text messages.

Possible Solutions

Increased enforcement of state seat belt, speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving laws would help reduce the number of fatal accidents. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that one third of drunk drivers are repeat offenders and that 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. Increased penalties (such as the imposition of an ignition interlock device) for repeat DUI and related offenses could help reduce drunk driving fatalities.

Public education on the serious risks of all such dangerous behaviors must go hand in hand with law enforcement. Newer drivers are most at risk when it comes to distracted driving due to talking on the phone, texting or checking email. There must be a change in our driving culture through education. Once the information has been provided, it is up to drivers to act responsibly on the road to not only protect their own lives, but to protect every other life on the road.