In the past several years, the number of car accident fatalities has declined in St. Louis and throughout the U.S., due largely to improvements in vehicle safety technology and a recession that kept more people homebound. But during the first quarter of this year, that trend seems to have reversed, with crash deaths increasing by more than 13 percent from the same time period last year.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 7,630 people died in car accidents in the U.S. during the first three months of 2012, a 13.5 percent increase from the 6,720 fatalities during the first quarter of 2011. If those current estimates hold true, the increase would represent the second largest year-to-year quarterly rise in car accident deaths in nearly four decades.

The NHTSA has not yet determined the definitive cause of the increase, but officials have a few theories. One possibility has to do with the weather. Normally, traffic deaths are lowest during the first quarter, as winter weather keeps drivers at home and off the road. But with this year's unseasonably warm winter, more people may have gotten behind the wheel. Data from the Federal Highway Administration seems to support that theory. The agency reports that the number of vehicle miles traveled during the first quarter of 2012 increased by nearly 10 billion miles, or 1.4 percent, from the number traveled during the same period in 2011.

Regardless of the reason, it is disheartening to see that crash deaths may again be on the rise after a nearly decade-long decline. Hopefully, traffic safety officials can determine the cause of the increase and take action to remedy it.

Source: CNN, "U.S. traffic fatalities soar 13.5 percent in first quarter of 2012," Jim Barnett, July 23, 2012