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Another Record Low for Annual Traffic Fatalities

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities are at their lowest level since 1950, the year that traffic fatalities were first tracked.

In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died in car accidents. In 2009, 33,808 people were killed, which is almost a 10 percent reduction from 2008. The number of traffic fatalities declined despite an increase of the numbers of miles people are driving.

The NHTSA also reported that alcohol-related traffic fatalities decreased by 7.4 percent from 2008 to 2009, although they still account for one-third of all traffic fatalities. In addition, all traffic accidents, fatal or not, declined by 5.3 percent over the same period.

Regarding motorcycle accidents, LaHood reported that 850 fewer motorcyclists died in 2009 than in 2008. This changes the trend of 11 years of increases in the number of motorcyclist fatalities.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, said that a few factors likely are contributing the low rates of traffic fatalities, including:

  • Safer vehicles
  • Increased seatbelt use
  • Anti-drunk driving campaigns
  • Less driving due to a weakened economy

LaHood said that people make fewer trips for entertainment and enjoyment in a poor economy. Long road trips more frequently lead to deadly accidents.
Motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 3 and 34, NHTSA said.

NHTSA administrator David Strickland contributes the drop in fatalities to increased seat belt usage and a strong anti-drunken driving campaign nationwide. Today, nearly one-third of all fatalities are caused by drunken drivers. It's interesting to note that more people die from car crashes in rural areas, with urban areas a distant second, according to NHTSA's data. A roadway departure, where a vehicle crosses a street's center line or leaves the proper travel way, is the largest type of fatal accident. That's followed by accidents that occur at intersections.

Overall, fatalities in every traffic category, including pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, large trucks and passenger cars, are down dramatically from 2008.

Related Resource: USA Today's "Traffic Deaths on Pace for Another Record Low This Year"

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