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A sudden surge in highway accidents has experts scratching their heads. According to recently released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, highway fatalities increased to 13.5% in the first quarter of 2012. This is a significant change from previous years, since in 2011 fatalities fell by 1.7%, which was a 60 year low. Overall, an estimated 7,630 people died in motor vehicle accidents during the first three months of the year.

One possible explanation for the surge in traffic fatalities is the unseasonably warm winter that many parts of the country experienced. Typically, even with bad winter weather conditions, there is usually a decline in traffic deaths in the first quarter of the year because people drive less during this season. In addition, consumers have generally stopped driving as much because of rising fuel prices over the past several years. However, experts have witnessed a 1.4% surge in the number of miles Americans drove in the beginning of 2012 which may have been prompted by the milder weather.

Safety experts are hopeful that the warm weather is the answer to the problem. Given that traffic fatalities have sharply dropped over the past seven years, the new data is disconcerting. Experts also say that the government data likely underestimates the problem. Government officials will continue to analyze the data closely to determine the exact cause of the rise in traffic fatalities, but advise drivers to use extra care when driving.

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