Sep 9, 2010 12:29 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON (AP) - Traffic deaths have plummeted across the
United States to levels not seen in more than a half century,
spurred by technology, more safety-conscious drivers and tougher
enforcement of drunken driving laws.
The Transportation Department said Thursday that traffic deaths
fell 9.7 percent in 2009 to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950.
In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died on the highways.
Government and auto safety experts attributed the improvement to
more people buckling up, side air bags and anti-rollover technology
in more vehicles and a focus in many states on curbing drinking and
driving. Economic conditions were also a factor.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the new data "a
landmark achievement for public health and safety" but cautioned
that too many people are killed on the road each year. "While
we've come a long way," he said, "we have a long distance yet to
Forty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico saw
reductions in highway fatalities, led by Florida with 422 fewer
deaths and Texas, down 405.
The rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled also dropped
to a record low. It fell to 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles in
2009, compared with 1.26 the year before.
Year-to-year declines in highway deaths have occurred in
previous economic downturns, when fewer people are out on the road.
Traffic deaths decreased in the early 1980s and early 1990s when
difficult economic conditions led many drivers to cut back on
Last year's reduction in fatalities came even as the estimated
number of miles traveled by motorists in 2009 increased 0.2 percent
over 2008 levels.
Barbara Harsha, executive director for the Governors Highway
Safety Association, said the new data was "particularly
encouraging given that estimated vehicle miles traveled actually
increased slightly in 2009, thus exposing the public to greater
risk on our roadways."
LaHood said the weak economy was a contributing factor as many
Americans chose not to go out to bars and restaurants after work or
on the weekend.
But he said many motorists are more safety conscious behind the
wheel. About 85 percent of Americans wear seat belts while
benefiting from safety advances found in today's cars and trucks.
Side air bags that protect the head and midsection are becoming
standard equipment on many new vehicles. Electronic stability
control, which helps motorists avoid rollover crashes, is more
common on new cars and trucks, while some luxury models have lane
departure warnings and other safety features.
LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, has also sought to crack
down on distracted driving, urging states to adopt stringent laws
against sending text messages from behind the wheel, as well as
The annual highway safety report also found:
- Motorcycle fatalities broke a string of 11 years of annual
increases, falling by 16 percent, from 5,312 in 2008 to 4,462 in
- The number of people injured in motor vehicle crashes fell for
a 10th consecutive year. An estimated 2.2 million people were
injured in 2009, a 5.5 percent decline from 2.3 million in 2008.
- Alcohol-impaired driving deaths declined 7.4 percent in 2009
to 10,839 deaths, compared with 11,711 in 2008. Alcohol-impaired
fatalities fell in 33 states and Puerto Rico.
2009 motor vehicle crashes report: