Insurance News

Traffic deaths at lowest in 60 years

Posted on: September 19, 2010

Traffic deaths in the USA are at a 60-year low despite a slight uptick in miles driven, and the chances of dying on the road are the lowest ever, the Department of Transportation says.

The number of people who died on the nation’s roads fell 3,615, or 9.7%, from 2008 to 33,808 last year, the latest available data from the department. That was the lowest total since 33,186 people were killed in 1950, when there were one-fifth the number of vehicles on the road than today.

“This is unprecedented, historic progress,” says Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which has traffic safety offices in the states.

Harsha attributes the decline in deaths to a number of safety-related factors, including increased seat belt use, stronger enforcement of drunken-driving laws, improved roads, safer vehicles and better coordination in the states.

The motor vehicle fatality rate — the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled — is the lowest ever: 1.13 deaths in 2009, down from 1.26 in 2008, DOT says, even as Americans were driving 0.2% more than in 2008.

“We could not be happier, but we are not going to sit back on our laurels. We have a long, long way to go,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says.

Traffic deaths are down in every category, including among motorcyclists. Fatalities in this group fell by 850 from 2008, ending 11 straight years of increases. Drunken-driving deaths dropped by 7.4%.

“Fatalities going down in every category is a strong indication that safety programs are working,” Harsha says.

LaHood, whom President Obama named Transportation secretary in December 2008, has focused heavily on curtailing distracted driving, especially related to cellphones and handheld devices. He says it’s difficult to tell whether those efforts are a factor in declining traffic fatalities.

“We think (distracted driving is) an epidemic, because everybody in America owns a cellphone, and everybody who owns one has either used it or texted on it while driving,” he says.

Other findings:

•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).

•All crashes (fatal, injury and property damage) were down by 5.3% in 2009 from a year earlier.

Copyright 2010 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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