U.S. Highway Fatalities Drop to Record Low in 2011

U.S. Highway Fatalities Drop to Record Low in 2011The number of Americans killed on U.S. highways sank in 2011 to its lowest level since 1949, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) first began keeping records on fatal crashes around the country, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the news source, the only area where highway fatalities rose was in the tri-state California, Arizona and Hawaii region, which together saw driving deaths rise approximately 3.3 percent from 2010’s readings. In 2011, the amount of traffic fatalities on highways around the country fell to 32,310, which came as Americans drove about 36 billion fewer miles – a 1.2 percent decrease from the year before. Experts say the growing cost of gas and lingering economic struggles may have kept people from going on unnecessary road trips, thereby keeping the number of potential accidents lower. Last year’s fatality rate is expected to finalize as the lowest on record, as it is projected to drop to 1.09 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled, new data from the NHTSA show. According to the media outlet, fatalities stemming from car accidents have dropped by about 26 percent since 2005, when 43,510 traffic deaths were reported. The highest number of traffic fatalities ever reported occurred in 1972, when there were 54,589. In 1949, there were 30,246 fatalities, however the rate was at 7.13 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Safer Vehicles, Safer Roads The historic decline in car accidents is being attributed to several factors in addition to the still-hurting economy. “Probably people driving less, safer vehicles, safer roads and an improvement in the safety culture across the United States” helped bring the number down, said Jacob Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy for the AAA national office. Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association said more drivers across the country are habitually using their seatbelts, buying safer cars and traveling on well-maintained roads. Also, those who are involved in car accidents are receiving improved treatment from emergency medical personnel, keeping the number of fatalities down. In California, officials said the increase in traffic fatalities cannot be explained as of yet, but that they plan to perform further studies to assess the rise once the NHTSA breaks down the data further, which will become available later in 2012. “California has seen remarkable declines in traffic fatalities since 2005, a drop of 37.3% through 2010,” said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “The 2,715 fatalities in 2010 was a drop of nearly 12 percent in one year alone. That was the lowest number of fatalities in the state since 1944, when one-tenth the number of vehicles traveled one-sixteenth the number of miles.” Not a Time for Complacency According to Fox News, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Jackie Gilland said the lower fatality rate is a welcome statistic, but that the number does not mean the nation can relax just yet when it comes to road safety. “You are still losing 32,000 people a year,” she said. “And we still don’t know whether when the economy comes back and is really robust, what that is going to do.” Historically, when the “economy bounces back and people are doing more discretionary driving and things like that,” highway deaths have risen from reported lows, Gilland added. The sharpest decline in roadway fatalities was measured in New England states – at 7.2 percent – while the five-state region made up of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi remained flat compared to the previous year.