Traffic fatality upsurge reason for caution

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 08:38 PM

Maybe this is why we can't have nice things.

On Feb. 19, the National Safety Council released a preliminary estimate of 36,200 motor vehicle fatalities on roads throughout the United States during 2012. Put in perspective, that's just slightly less than the population of Apex, dead in a year.

Crash injuries requiring medical attention: Up to 3.9 million. More than the combined populations of Durham, Orange, Wake and Mecklenburg counties.

Cost of deaths, injuries and property damage: $276.6 billion. That's enough to build 200 15-stop stretches of light rail transit between Durham and Orange counties.

All those figures are up 5 percent from the previous year. For fatalities, it marks the first upsurge since 2005.

The Safety Council's research suggests that we've been driving a lot more, in general, since December 2011. That makes sense. The NSC's speculation suggests that it could be due to the improving economy and the mild winter last year.

Janet Froescher, president and CEO of the NSC, said her organization is "greatly concerned" about the upward spike in traffic deaths: "Although we have improved safety features in vehicles today, we also have new challenges, especially as it relates to teen and distracted driving, that need to be addressed on a national scale. We must work together now to reverse this latest trend to prevent needless tragedy."

We've also got some old favorites to worry about too, such as drunk driving and drag racing, claiming lives on our local roads.

In December, Orange High School students Kacie Chamberlain and Chase Underhill died when the truck Underhill was speeding down Little River Church Road swerved off and hit a tree.

Just last weekend, a stand-up comic from Tennessee - Brian Edward Kiley - died after a collision on Interstate 40 with a car driven by Raul Herrera of High Point. Hererra's been charged with felony death by motor vehicle and driving while impaired.

We should be more careful out there.

But these halcyon days of economic recovery may end soon if sequestration cuts start in March.

Maybe putting the brakes on the turnaround will have at least one beneficial side effect.