New York Times
Happy Motoring: Traffic Deaths at 61-Year Low
It may not seem that way when some knucklehead speeds past you on the right, but driving is getting much, much safer: last year the United States recorded the fewest traffic deaths in more than 60 years, according to federal data released on Friday.
An estimated 32,788 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . That represents a 25 percent decline since 2005, when there were 43,510 traffic fatalities, and the fewest deaths since 1949 — when “On The Town” won the Academy Award for best score for a musical , a new magazine called Motor Trend named the Cadillac as its first car of the year, and when there were far fewer drivers on America's pre-Interstate roads.
“Last year's drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news, and it proves that we can make a difference,” the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood , said in a statement. “Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day. We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first.”
The reason driving deaths have declined so steeply over the past five years is something of a mystery, but officials and experts point to a combination of factors. Old cars are being replaced by newer models with more safety features, including air bags and antilock brakes. Highways are built or refurbished with more attention to safety, with features like rumble strips and cable median barriers to separate cars from oncoming traffic. Seat belt use is believed to be up, and stricter car-seat laws have made the days when children bounced around in the back of station wagons a distant memory.
But other Western nations have seen even greater declines over the last decade, and the fatality rate is still higher in the United States than in many other countries.
Whatever the explanation, the decline in deaths was not merely caused by the drop in driving as the Great Recession wore on. Measured by deaths per miles traveled, which filters out the effect of less driving, the roadways were safer as well.
In 2005, there were 1.46 deaths for every 100 million miles traveled, and last year the rate dropped to 1.09. (In 1949, by comparison, the rate was 7.13.) And last year there were fewer deaths, even as there was more driving: traffic deaths dropped an estimated 3 percent in 2010 from 2009, but officials estimated that the number of miles traveled rose by 0.7 percent. The Northeast did see an increase in traffic deaths last year, but every other part of the country saw a decline.