JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Traffic deaths in the first quarter of this year surged 13.5 percent compared with the same time last year, according to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

An estimated 7,630 people died from January through March, up from 6,720 during the same time in 2011.

It was the largest quarterly increase in traffic deaths since 1979.

Locally, there's also been a slight increase, with two more fatal crashes than last year from January to July.

The Florida Highway Patrol says it's noticed vehicle maintenance has been a huge factor in car crashes.

"People have the option of maintaining their home and putting food on the table or maintaining their cars, and we know what happens -- the family has got to be fed," said FHP Capt. Keith Gaston.

Tire companies agree with FHP's assessment.

"We're seeing a lot of people who are not replacing their tires when they need to be replaced," said Fritz Parman, president of Big Chief Tire Co. in Jacksonville.

Parman said oil changes and tire rotations are important, but drivers can't escape needing new tires on their car if they've put a lot of miles on it.

Two things drivers can do on their own is check their tire pressure with a tire gauge and check the tread.

Parman said drivers should check their tires monthly and to do so when they are cold, not hot, to get an accurate reading on the air pressure.

Maintaining a car may not be a guarantee against getting into wrecks, but law enforcement says it will lessen the likelihood.

The NHTSA says right now there's not enough data to make a reasonable projection of fatal crashes for the rest of 2012.