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Illinois roads registered 952 fatalities in 2012

Anybody who drove on Illinois highways during the latter part of 2012 probably noticed the large signs tallying the total number of roadway fatalities. These signs were meant to alert motorists to the increasing number deaths in the hopes that the sobering statistics would encourage people to drive more safely.

Sadly, the year did not end on a positive note. A total of 952 people died in motor vehicle accidents in Illinois in 2012, 34 more than were killed in 2011.

The increase comes after several years of steady declines. Still the death toll is much lower than it has been at other times during recent history. According to data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, 1,043 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2008. The highest death toll in the 2000s came in 2003, when the state saw 1,454 traffic-related fatalities.

Reasons behind the increase

Though the New Year has just begun, safety experts are already starting to postulate about the reasons behind the increase. Last summer, when it was beginning to become clear that the death rate was rising, Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told the Chicago Tribune that people may not fully internalize the fact that "when they are getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, they are operating a lethal weapon."

Indeed, personal behavioral choices are some of the biggest contributing factors to fatal traffic accidents. Speeding, drunk driving, texting while driving and other forms of distraction are all leading causes of fatal crashes. The death toll will not drop until people start taking responsibility for their own behavior behind the wheel.

However, not everything can be blamed on bad behavior. Some of the increase is due to simple demographics — since there were more vehicles on the road in 2012, it stands to reason that there would also be more fatal accidents. Weather is a factor as well. Transportation officials have correlated a relatively early spring with an increase in motorcycle traffic. In the first half of 2012, motorcycle accident deaths were up 85 percent from the year before.

Illinois wrongful death lawsuits

Of course, it is important to remember that fatal traffic accidents represent much more than mere statistics. Each one brings a tragic and irreplaceable loss.

When a fatal accident was caused by another driver's negligence, the victim's survivors have the right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Though nothing can take away the pain the accident caused, wrongful death claims can help survivors recover financial compensation for losses including medical and funeral expenses, loss of the victim's future income, loss of the victim's care and companionship and the survivors' grief and mental suffering.

If your loved one has been killed in a traffic accident, know that you have rights. Talk to an experienced Chicago-area personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case and help you understand your options.