Traffic deaths trended down again in 2010, says DOT

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Washington (CNN) — Some 32,885 people died on the nation’s roadways in 2010 — a number that, while slightly higher than preliminary figures released in April, shows the downward trend in traffic deaths is continuing, now reaching low levels not seen since 1949, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported Thursday.

The decline came despite the fact Americans drove 46 billion miles in 2010 — 1.6 percent more than the previous year.
“While we have more work to do to protect American motorists, these numbers show we’re making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation’s roadways,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The 2010 fatality rate — which comes to 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles — was he lowest rate ever recorded, the DOT said. It is down from 1.15 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles in 2009.

Fatalities declined in most categories, including occupants of passenger cars and light trucks, a category that includes SUVs, minivans and pickups. Fatalities rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders and large truck occupants.
Experts have attributed the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars — such as vehicle rollover protection — and programs to change driver behavior — such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers’ licenses. They also give credit to stricter enforcement of driving laws and drivers taking personal responsibility for their safety.

Traffic fatalities in the United States peaked in 1972, with 54,589 killed, according to the DOT. But the rise and decline of the grim number has numerous peaks and dips, influenced by direct changes such as the national speed limit and indirect causes such as recessions.

In recent history, the most notable change was a 9.7 percent plummet in deaths in 2008. In a report examining that drop, DOT officials gave credit to DOT safety programs, but also noted that the drop coincided with a recession in the economy. The recession, and high unemployment rates among the young workforce, probably had a big impact on travel among young drivers, and probably accounts for a steep decline in fatalities involving younger people, the DOT said.
Drunk driving deaths dropped 4.9 percent in 2010, taking 10,228 lives compared to 10,759 the previous year, the DOT said.

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