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NHTSA: Crash deaths up 20 percent in N.H. in 2012

Motor vehicle crashes killed 108 people in New Hampshire last year, 20 percent more than in 2011, according to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency announced last week that, nationally, fatalities in crashes rose 3.3 percent in 2012, with 33,561 people killed last year compared with 32,479 in 2011. The increase came after six straight years of declining deaths; in 2011, U.S. fatalities were at their lowest since 1949.

In New Hampshire, 108 people died in crashes in 2012, compared with 90 in 2011.

“It’s dramatically lower, still, than in 2005 . . . but again, what’s an acceptable number?” said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “There is no acceptable number, so you have to keep plugging at it.”

While the spike in New Hampshire deaths is striking, it came a year after fatalities in the state dropped 29.7 percent, from 128 in 2010 to 90 a year later. The 108 deaths last year were roughly on par with the 110 deaths recorded in 2009.

Several other states and territories with relatively small populations also saw dramatic year-to-year swings: Deaths were up 40 percent in Vermont and 20.6 percent in Maine, while fatalities were down 44.4 percent in the District of Columbia.

“The numbers are smaller in terms of what it would take to change the percentages quickly,” Boynton said, “but the idea is to make the numbers go down, not up.”

Thirty-two deaths in the state last year were the result of alcohol-impaired driving – 29.6 percent of the total, about the same proportion as in 2011.

Weather may have been a factor in the national uptick in deaths – most of the increase last year came in the first three months of 2012, which was the warmest quarter on record, the traffic safety agency said. And more than half of the increase in deaths came from motorcyclists and non-motor vehicle occupants, such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Motorcyclist deaths in the United States were up 7.1 percent in 2012, pedestrian deaths rose 6.4 percent and cyclist deaths were up 6.5 percent, compared with a 1.6 percent increase in deaths among drivers and passengers of cars and light trucks.

But the overall upward trend may not continue this year. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2013 show a 4.2 percent drop in deaths compared with the same period a year earlier, the agency said.

In June 2012, the state DOT and other agencies started the “Driving Toward Zero” program, a campaign seeking to reduce deaths and serious injuries due to car crashes in New Hampshire.

“While zero deaths on New Hampshire’s highways may seem like an unreachable goal, we can all agree that even one fatality is one too many, and that zero is the only number we can live with,” DOT Commissioner Chris Clement said in a statement at the time.

Boynton said that effort was ongoing and DOT continues to make safety improvements to highways, such as rumble strips.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

They mention alcohol and weather but no mention of cell phones and texting. Back in the old days if you were driving behind someone that was weaving from side to side, you could pretty much bet they were DUI. Not so these days, these days you can pretty much bet they're texting. How many more will have to die, before something is done about it?

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