Highway Fatalities Plunge To Lowest Level Since 1949
December 11, 2012

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Reports That Fatalities Are Down

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

High traffic fatalities fell to 32,367 in 2011, the lowest level since 1949 and a 1.9 percent decrease from the previous year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported on Monday.

The detailed report shows the continuation of a historic downward trend in highway deaths in recent years, with a 26 percent decline in overall highway fatalities since 2005, the federal agency said.

Experts attribute the trend to several factors, including the increased use of air bags, seat belts and other vehicle safety features, improved roadway designs and a growing awareness of the dangers of driving drunk.

“In the past several decades, we´ve seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive,” said NHTSA administrator David Strickland.

At the state level, 36 states saw reductions in the number of overall highway traffic fatalities last year.

Alaska topped the list of states with the highest percentage increase in traffic deaths, at 29%, while New Hampshire and Idaho saw a 30% and 20% reduction, respectively, in highway fatalities from 2010 to 2011, according to the report.

Five states saw reductions of over 50 fatalities from 2010 to 2011, led by Connecticut with 100 fewer fatalities, followed by North Carolina (-93), Tennessee (-86), Ohio (-64), and Michigan (-53).

Nationally, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers fell 2.5% in 2011, taking 9,878 lives, compared with 10,136 in 2010.

The NHTSA figures show that the number of people killed in distraction-related accidents grew nearly 2 percent, to 3,331, from 2010 to 2011, although the number of people injured in these accidents fell by 7 percent, to 387,000, during that time.

The report contained more bad news, showing an increase in fatalities among bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcycle riders from 2010 to 2011, with bicycle deaths rising 8.7%, to 677, pedestrian deaths rising 3%, to 4,432, and deaths among motorcycle riders growing 2.1 percent, to 4,612.

The rise in bicycle deaths likely reflects the fact that more people are riding bicycles, said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies.

For instance, Washington, D.C. reported a 175 percent increase in bicyclists during morning and evening rush hours since 2004. The city also tripled its bike lane network during that time.

"Our culture is beginning to move away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportations," Adkins told the Associated Press.

"We need to be able to accommodate all these forms of transportation safely."

Big-rig truck drivers saw the sharpest rise in highway deaths last year, with fatalities growing 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. Adkins said the increase is puzzling, but may be linked to the growing number of trucks returning to the road as the economy picks up.

“There are more questions than answers about what is occurring here,” he said, “but this could be in part to a strengthening economy.”

The NHTSA said it is working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to gather more detailed information on the large truck occupant crashes, in hopes of better understanding the increase in fatalities last year.

The agency said it is also working toward final safety standards that would improve tire performance standards and require electronic stability control technology on large trucks, something that is currently mandatory on all new cars sold. The agency also plans to propose a new rule on the use of speed-limiting devices on heavy vehicles.

The full NHTSA report can be viewed here.