Traffic deaths on U.S. highways hits lowest rate in 60 years

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Police, fire and paramedics on the scene of an automobile accident. A truck sits upside down in the middle of the highway.

Fewer people are dying on America's highways, reports the Transportation Department. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Ragesoss/Wikipedia)

For decades, the U.S. auto industry moved forward in leaps and bounds when it came to designing cars that could get consumers where they wanted to go faster, but it took a while for automotive safety technology to catch up. It wasn’t until 1959 that Congress required U.S. cars to have seat belts, in response to staggering numbers of highway fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. Today, safety technology is considerably more advanced, and there is evidence in numbers. According to the Transportation Department, there were fewer traffic deaths on U.S. highways in 2009 than there have been in six decades.

Traffic deaths down thanks to safety advancements and tougher laws

Seat belts, airbags, more efficient body construction, stability control and other high-tech crash sensors have contributed to fewer traffic deaths, but tighter enforcement of drinking and driving and distracted/fatigued driving laws should not be discounted, writes the Associated Press. By the numbers, traffic deaths decreased by 9.7 percent in 2009 to 33,808, the lowest number on record since 1950. By comparison, 37,423 deaths related to highway accidents occurred in 2008. That’s 1.13 deaths per million miles driven in 2009, compared with 1.26 the previous year. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proudly exclaimed that the latest report “shows that America’s roads are the safest they’ve ever been.”

Some blame the recession

Historical data indicates that highway fatalities have tended to decrease when America faces recession. For instance, in the late 1970s/early 1980s when Americans suffered through recession and oil shortages, the numbers were down. The same thing occurred in the early 1990s. In both cases, the cost of driving more than likely kept more people at home or pushed them toward public transportation. Fewer cars on the road will naturally decrease the number of traffic deaths. However, despite the current recession, the Transportation Department found that the number of miles traveled by motorists increased by 0.2 percent in 2009.

Distracted driving is the latest target of the law

Talking on cell phones without hands-free technology, texting or doing something other than focusing on the road ahead is always a bad idea. That’s why law enforcement across America has paid special attention to such offenses lately. LaHood told the AP that if all states adopt more stringent laws against such activities behind the wheel, U.S. roads will be safer and lives will be saved.

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