U.S. Traffic Deaths Drop to Historic Low

U.S. traffic fatalities are at a record low despite drivers traveling farther than they did in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study of traffic injuries and fatalities in 2009 found that 33,808 people were killed in vehicular accidents, which is a decline of 9.7 percent from 2008’s figures. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 1950 to find a year when fewer people were killed.

Keep in mind that there were only 44.7 million cars on U.S. roads in 1950 and a population of 150 million compared to today's 255.9 million cars and a population of 310 million, according to the DOT. Which means that the probability of being involved in an auto fatality is dramatically lower than it was nearly 60 years ago.

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.

However, the decline doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done in regard to vehicular safety. An astonishing 2.22 million people were injured in motor-vehicle accidents in 2009, and nearly 5.5 million vehicles were involved in auto accidents. While both numbers are down significantly from 2008, Strickland says there's more room for improvement in strictly enforcing seat belt laws and anti-drunken driving laws. “We are still losing more than 30,000 lives a year on our highways and about a third of these involve drunk driving," he said. "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.”

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