Huntington Manor firefighters work to extricate victims from the scene...

Huntington Manor firefighters work to extricate victims from the scene of a two-car crash at Pigeon Hill Road and Windham Avenue in Huntington Station. A passenger in a black 2004 Acura was pronounced dead at the scene The driver of the Acura was badly injured and was airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital in critical condition. The two adults and three children in the other car, a silver 2013 Toyota Sienna, were taken to Huntington Hospital with minor injuries. (Jan. 17, 2014) Credit: Steve Silverman

The number of deaths in crashes increased nationwide for the first time in six years, according to an annual report released yesterday by an automobile safety watchdog group.

In 2012, 33,561 people were killed across the country, a 3.3 percent increase from the previous year, according Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, based in Washington, D.C.

One reason for the uptick, the group said, is the improved economy. With extra disposable income, more people are taking road trips, increasing the possibility of motor vehicle crashes.

"This alarming shift is a reminder that states must continue to pass and enforce strong, comprehensive highway safety laws," said Jacqueline Gillan, president of the group.

The watchdog group was founded in 1989 by executives of major property and casualty insurance companies as well as consumers and safety advocates.

Motor vehicle crashes impose a huge financial burden.

In 2000, the total cost reached more than $230 billion nationwide; nearly a third of that, $81 billion, is lost in workplace and household productivity, the group said.

In New York, there were 1,169 fatal crashes in 2011. In 2012, there were 1,168.

Though traffic safety laws in New York are among the nation's best, the group says the state could take measures to help save more lives.

The group awarded favorable ratings to 29 states, including New York, but noted that highway safety laws in these states still face "numerous gaps."

The watchdog group issued an overall rating to the states based on how many of the 15 highway safety laws, recommended by the group, have been adopted.

The District of Columbia and 10 states -- including Delaware, Rhode Island and Maine -- were deemed to have the best highway safety laws, the report said.

Eleven other states, including Florida and New Hampshire, were judged to have the worst traffic safety laws, according to the report.

The group recommends that New York adopt laws requiring rear-seat passengers to wear seat belts and permit law enforcement officers to issue tickets to drivers when the laws are broken. The group also suggests that New York adopt tougher laws to further restrict the use of cellphones.

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