WASHINGTON -- U.S. traffic deaths rose a projected 9% in the first half of this year, compared with the same period a year ago, for the largest increase since 1975, as an improved economy led motorists to drive more.
The increase comes after road fatalities dropped last year to their lowest level in more than six decades.
An estimated 16,290 people died in crashes between January and June, up from 14,950 for the first half of 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Safety experts say the increase is likely due to an improved economy, with motorists driving about 15.6 billion more miles -- a 1.1% increase -- during the first half of this year.
AAA said it wondered whether deferred road maintenance was also a factor.
Congress recently approved new highway legislation but struggled to maintain funding for road projects because more fuel-efficient cars have translated into less money from the federal gasoline tax.