Traffic fatalities at lowest rate since 1949

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A wrecked car

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that traffic fatalities in car crashes declined during 2010. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its traffic fatality report for 2010. Among other findings, overall traffic fatalities have fallen to the lowest levels since 1949.

Alcohol still a killer

There are few things more dangerous than a person behind the wheel who is under the influence of alcohol. Going by data contained in the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on traffic fatalities, drunk driving is still a killer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 31 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2010 were related to alcohol. There were 10,228 traffic deaths related to alcohol in 2010, which represents a 4.9 percent decline from 2009, when there were 10,759 traffic fatalities due to alcohol, according to USA Today.
Distracted driving also remained a problem. There were 3,092 traffic deaths from “distraction-affected” crashes, though NHTSA criteria for what constitutes distracted driving has been changed for this year. The NHTSA recorded 5,474 deaths in “distraction-related” crashes in 2009.

Steadily declining

The number of annual traffic deaths has been declining, according to the Wall Street Journal, since the 1980s. Deaths from drunk driving decreased the most rapidly. Since the year 2000, drunk driving deaths decreased from 17,380 in that year to 10,228 in 2010, a 41 percent decline.

There were 32,885 traffic fatalities in 2010, according to MSNBC, representing a 2.9 percent decline from 2009 and the lowest rate of traffic fatalities since 1949. That reduction comes despite Americans driving an additional 46 billion miles in 2010, a 1.6 percent increase in miles traveled, according to USA Today. Overall, Americans logged about 3 trillion miles on the nation’s roads.
Fatalities declined most sharply among the under-21 set. Between 2006 and 2010, deaths among young people declined by 39 percent. Traffic fatalities in the overall population declined by 23 percent in that period. Deaths in passenger cars and light trucks decreased as well, though fatalities among pedestrians, passengers in heavy trucks and motorcycle riders rose.

Driven to distraction

According to Automobile Magazine, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is concerned with the number of distracted-driving related accidents and fatalities, specifically those caused by using a phone behind the wheel.

In 2009, the survey only recorded whether a cell phone was in the car at a crash scene; this year’s survey accounts for whether a driver was using the phone, including hands-free operation, as well as other distractions. The NHTSA believes the number of crashes and deaths caused by a distracted driver, especially a driver distracted by a mobile phone, could be much higher.

In order to better gauge how drivers respond to typical distractions, such as a phone call, the NHTSA is planning a study in which subjects’ cars will be fitted with cameras and sensors. Data will be collected and analyzed by the NHTSA to see how people react and how they drive when presented with a distraction. That study is projected to be completed by 2014.


Wall Street Journal

USA Today


USA Today

Automobile Magazine

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