The national highway safety effort lost ground in 2012 as fatalities from both car and truck crashes increased compared to the previous year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports a 3.3% increase, from 32,479 to 33,561.

Most of the increase came from motorcycle and pedestrian accidents, but truck crashes accounted for a 3.7% increase, from 3,781 to 3,921, the agency said.

This figure needs some explaining, though.

Even though NHTSA references “large trucks” in its report, the data covers trucks rated from 10,000 to 26,000-plus pounds – from heavy pickups and step vans to combination rigs.

The agency should make this clear, said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves.

“When the public hears the term ‘large truck,’ they naturally think of the millions of large tractor-trailers that deliver their most essential goods,” he said in a statement.

“However, data released (Thursday) lumps those tractor-trailers in with millions of smaller, non-freight-hauling vehicles whose crash rates are higher than in the trucking industry. The federal government should not be so casual with its terminology and should provide further information and clarity to the public.”

The truck data show a 8.9% increase in fatalities among the occupants of these trucks. Included in this number are a 3.9% increase in single-truck crash fatalities, and an 18% increase in multi-vehicle crash fatalities.

The number of fatalities among other vehicle occupants in these crashes increased 4.8%, but fatalities among nonoccupants dropped 11%.

NHTSA noted that the 2012 numbers are the first increase in fatalities since 2005, and that highway deaths continue at historic lows.

Fatalities in 2011 were the lowest since 1949, when there was far less traffic than there is today. And the 2012 number is on par with 1950, the agency said.

Pedestrian safety is an ongoing challenge, the data show. Fatalities among pedestrians increased for the third year in a row. The 6.4% increase in 2012 came mostly from accidents in cities and from careless road crossings. Alcohol also was an important factor.

Motorcycle fatalities also are on the rise. The 7.1% increase in 2012 was the third annual increase in a row. Ten times as many died not wearing a helmet in states without a universal helmet law than in states with those laws, the agency said.

Drunk driving remains a major problem: 10,322 died in alcohol-related crashes in 2012, a 4.6% increase over 2011. Most of these crashes involved drivers whose blood alcohol levels were .15, double the legal limit.

NHTSA also posted an early estimate of fewer fatalities in the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2012.

The statistical projection shows 15,470 deaths, compared to the 16,150 recorded in the first half of last year.