Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 9th, 2010 at 9:32 am
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that the latest traffic data shows "major, across the board declines" in all categories of fatalities and the lowest numbers in six decades.
Updated fatality and injury data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that there were 33,808 motor vehicle fatalities in 2009, a decline of 9.7 percent and the lowest number since 1950. This decline occurred estimated vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased by 0.2 percent over 2008. The number of people killed while riding their bicycles dropped 12 percent, from 718 deaths in 2008 to 630 deaths in 2009.
This is great news biking and walking advocates, not just because fewer people are dying, but because the numbers boost Sec. LaHood's profile, and he's been a big supporter of active transportation. LaHood has also made national headlines for his dedication to fighting distracted driving, an issue that has a direct impact on the safety of all road users. LaHood has also announced his second Distracted Driving Summit, which will take place on September 21st in Washington, D.C.
Also good news for vulnerable road users is that the number of alcohol impaired driving fatalities declined by 7.4 percent in 2009.
At a press conference today at US DOT headquarters in Washington D.C., NHTSA Administrator David Strickland gave credit to how "pedestrian-focused efforts" might have played a role in the improved safety data.
"We have begun a number of pedestrian-focused efforts, and they seem to be working. It’s good to know that these numbers are going down even while the Secretary has encouraged more and more pedestrian activity through his livability initiative. So we’ve got more people walking more miles more safely.”
Also at the press conference, Sec. LaHood said, "It’s a remarkable accomplishment – a landmark achievement for public health and safety."
"It’s a remarkable accomplishment – a landmark achievement for public health and safety."
— Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation
While these numbers are positive, America has a long way to go before our traffic safety record is something to celebrate. Even with these record low numbers, 92 people still die every day from motor vehicle crashes. In his remarks today, Sec. LaHood acknowledged that there is a lot more work to do. "Almost 34,000 deaths on our roadways is still unacceptable. And while we’ve come a long way, we have a long distance yet to travel."
LaHood also gave a few reasons he suspects are behind the lower numbers. In addition to safer cars, better engineered roadways, and a growing awareness of distracted driving, he also said the economy is a "contributing factor". Below is an excerpt from his remarks this morning:
"While more vehicles than ever are on our streets and highways — and while Americans are driving those vehicles a greater number of miles than ever before — we believe that “discretionary driving” is on the decline. Because of the economic downturn, fewer people may be going out for after-work or evening entertainment, which the data suggest are higher-risk trips than the daily commute."
LaHood acknowledged that as the economy rebounds, the numbers might creep up again, but he says historically they have never come all the way back up. "This is good news, but it's not an excuse to rest on our laurels."
In Oregon, we had 416 fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2008 and 377 in 2009 for a decline of 9.4 percent.
Download a PDF summary of the latest traffic fatality and injury data here.