Traffic Deaths Down for 2009

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced its projected statistics for traffic fatalities for calendar year 2009.

And one more time, the news is good.

NHTSA projects the number of traffic fatalities for 2009 to be roughly 34,000. This is the lowest number since 1954, and it continues a five-year decrease of 22% since a peak of 43,500 in 2005.

MOTOR VEHICLE FATALITIES
FATALITIES CHANGE FROM
PREVIOUS YEAR
2005 43,510
2006 42,708 -0.8%
2007 41,259 -2.7%
2008 37,261 -10.5%
2009 33,963 -8.9%

The NHTSA also reports deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and the projected number of deaths per 100 million VMT for 2009 is the lowest ever recorded: 1.16. The same statistic for 2008 was 1.27. Ten years ago it was 1.53, and in both 1994 and 95 the death rate per 100 million VMT was 1.73.

And way back in 1925, when there were only 19.5 million cars on the road, the death rate per 100 million VMT was 18.

The numbers projected for 2009 look good, but of course we can't forget that they still represent the lost of almost 34,000 lives. In the official press release, the NHTSA's David Strickland said, “This continuing decline in highway deaths is encouraging, but our work is far from over. We want to see those numbers drop further. We will not stop as long as there are still lives lost on our nation’s highways.”

The reasons behind the continued drop in the number of deaths are many, but US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it well on his blog: “Our roads are safer; our vehicles are safer; and people are driving less.”

While it's true that recent years have indeed seen numerous improvements in the design and construction of both roadways and motor vehicles, the NHTSA report actually predicts that final statistics will show that drivers drove 6.6 billion miles more in 2009 than the previous years, an increase of roughly .2%

(For reasons why people drove more last year
than in 2008, check your local gas pump.)

Safer cars and roads are not the whole story, of course. Much of the credit belongs to safer, better informed drivers on the roads. Nationwide and in every state, there are numerous campaigns to make drivers more aware of dangers their driving habits create. “We've worked hard to make sure drivers are getting our “Click it or Ticket” and “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” messages on seat-belt use and impaired driving,” LaHood adds. “And I have been on a personal tear to raise awareness about distracted driving.”

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