Preliminary Figures Show Traffic Deaths Rising in 2012, Reversing a 7-Year Decline That Brought Fatalities to Historic Lows

Early analysis reveals a 5 percent increase in U.S. road fatalities last year. The National Safety Council said an estimated 36,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents. That reversed a seven-year decline that had brought annual traffic deaths to historic lows. In 2011, 34,600 people were killed in road crashes. Last year’s toll reflected 1.23 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up 4 percent. Crash injuries requiring medical care also rose, by 5 percent,  to 3.9 million. Safety advocates attributed the increases partly to more driving and more heavy trucks on the road due to an improved economy. Another possible factor was riskier driving, including driving while distracted by smartphones or other devices. The Associated Press

Drug overdose deaths climb for the 11th straight year. U.S. figures show that the main cause of the fatalities were accidents involving addictive painkillers despite growing attention to risks from the powerful prescription drugs. “The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For 2010, the CDC reported, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths.  Medicines were involved in nearly 60 percent of overdose deaths, overshadowing fatalities from illicit narcotics. As in previous years, opioid drugs — including OxyContin and Vicodin — were the biggest problem, contributing to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths. The Associated Press

Barring a late settlement, BP returns to court Monday to face tens of billions of dollars in claims from Gulf of Mexico disaster. The U.S. District Court trial in New Orleans will bundle civil suits brought by the federal government, states, private business and individual claimants against BP and several contractors involved in the deadly 2010 blowout. Decisions on culpability and damages could be a year or more away, but they are likely to have profound impact on environmental law and determine BP’s future as a global oil giant. “BP and the government are taking a high-stakes gamble by going to trial,” one legal expert said. “The fate of Gulf Coast recovery efforts and billions of dollars in Clean Water Act penalties hang in the balance.” The New York Times

Internal records show that BP’s deadliest operating locations worldwide were retail gas stations in the U.S. From 1999 to 2012, 117 people—including employees, guards and bystanders—were killed in violent security incidents at BP sites around the world, according to the internal data. Of those deaths, 105 of them took place at gas stations—including 53 in the U.S, by far the largest total in any country where BP operates. The revelation comes amid revived fears over the safety of oil-industry operations in remote corners of the Mideast and Africa following last month’s deadly attack on an Algerian natural-gas plant partly owned by BP.  Four BP workers were among 40 people who were killed in the militant siege. The Wall Street Journal

Federal watchdog says regulators fail to ensure that big airlines hold smaller partners to equal safety standards. The Transportation Department’s inspector general faulted the Federal Aviation Administration for not prodding the big airlines “to consistently share safety information and best practices” with regional airlines that operate flights under contract for them. That business link is known as code-sharing, by which one airline sells tickets for seats on a flight operated by another airline — United and United Express, for example. The FAA promised to ensure “one level of safety” at America’s airlines in 2009 after a flight operated by regional carrier Colgan Air for Continental Airlines crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50 people. The Associated Press, Buffalo News

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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