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U.S. Traffic Deaths Plunge To Lowest Level In Six Decades

lt’s great to finally have some good news coming out of the U.S. Department of  Transportation, but that was exactly what happened Thursday.   

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released updated 2009 fatality and injury data showing that highway deaths fell to 33,808 for the year, the lowest number since 1950. And this record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even while estimated vehicle miles traveled in 2009 increased by 0.2 percent over 2008 levels.

There was other good news: 2009 saw the lowest fatality and injury rates ever recorded, or 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009, compared to 1.26 deaths for 2008.

And the decrease in fatalities didn’t just involve autos. They declined in all categories of vehicles, including motorcycles, which saw fatalities fall by 850 from 2008, breaking an 11-year cycle of annual increases.

Experts attributed the drop in deaths to factors such as the stricter enforcement of drunken-driving laws and new technology such as anti-rollover systems. 

“At the Department of Transportation, we are laser-focused on our top priority: safety,” LaHood said in a prepared statement. “Today’s announcement shows that America’s roads are the safest they’ve ever been. But they must be safer. And we will not rest until they are.”

To help keep the number of traffic deaths down, LaHood is holding a National Distracted Driving Summit Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C. That confab will bring together transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement, industry representatives, researchers and victims affected by distraction-related crashes to address challenges and identify opportunities for national anti-distracted driving efforts.

 This gatheriung is the second of its kind, following the first summit LaHood held last fall, which got a national conversation started about texting and talking on cellphones while driving. Oprah Winfrey even joined the bandwagon for this cause.

Here’s a sobering statistic for you on the danger of driving. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study based on 2006 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those between the ages of three and 34.

In addition to the huge drop in fatalities, the number of people injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 declined for a tenth straight year in a row, falling an estimated 5.5 percent from 2008, according to NHTSA data.

Alcohol impaired driving fatalities declined by 7.4 percent in 2009 – 10,839 compared to 11,711 reported in 2008. Overall, 33 states and Puerto Rico experienced a decline in the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2009 compared to 2008.

“Today’s numbers reflect the tangible benefits of record seat belt use and strong anti-drunk driving enforcement campaigns,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in a statement. “But we are still losing more than 30,000 lives a year on our highways, and about a third of these involve drunk driving. We will continue to work with our state partners to strictly enforce both seat belt use and anti-drunk driving laws across this nation, every day and every night.”

Highlights of the latest Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and related NHTSA data include the following:

  • 33,808 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2009, a 9.7 percent decline from 37,423 deaths reported in 2008, and the lowest number of deaths since 1950 (which had 33,186).
  • An estimated 2.217 million people were injured in 2009, a 5.5 percent decline from 2.346 million in 2008.
  • 30,797 fatal crashes occurred in 2009, down 9.9 percent from 34,172 in 2008.  All crashes (fatal, injury and property damage only) were down by 5.3 percent in 2009 from a year ago.
  • Forty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all had reductions in fatalities, led by Florida (with 422 fewer fatalities) and Texas (with 405 fewer fatalities).

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