US road deaths up 3.3% in 2012; government speeds research on car safety systems image

In the first increase since 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday road deaths increased 3.3 % to 33,561 in 2012.

In light of this recent news, the government is speeding up research on safety systems that automatically prevent drivers from operating their cars if they are drunk or aren’t buckled properly.

Officials also said that they expect to decide by year’s end how to encourage automakers to make some special safety systems already in certain high-end vehicles available in more cars. Those systems warn drivers when they are about to run into another vehicle and can brake automatically to avoid a crash or make it less severe.

The innovations — collision avoidance, seat belt interlocks and driver alcohol detection systems — hold the potential for dramatically reducing traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“We need a new vision and a new blend of technological research to address some of the most significant and persistent threats to American motorists,” David Strickland, the agency’s head, said in a statement.

The 3% increase in highway fatalities might be due in part to last year’s unusually warm winter, which lengthened the motorcycle-riding season. Seventy-two percent of the increase occurred in the first three months of the year. Most of those involved were motorcyclists or pedestrians, the government said.

Detection systems such as those NHTSA is researching with automakers don’t require any action on the driver’s part except putting his hands on the steering wheel or pushing a start button with a finger. The idea is to eventually include the systems as standard or optional equipment in new vehicles, regardless of whether the driver has a history of drunken driving, for example.