Since 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been recording the number of fatalities on U.S. roadways, and with the exception of 1992, that figure has never dropped below 40,000 deaths per year. According to NHTSA's new figures, that changed in 2008, when 37,261 fatalities occurred in the U.S. – a drop of nearly 10% over the previous year and the largest reduction in both number and percentage since 1982.

The majority of that reduction came from passenger vehicles, with light truck fatalities dropping for the third consecutive year. However, the reduction hasn't taken place across the board – motorcycle fatalities continue their upwards trajectory with 5,290 riders meeting their demise on the road, comprising 14% of all roadway fatalities and continuing an eleven-year increase. Naturally, injuries were down as well, with 2.35 million people involved in crashes in 2008 compared to 2.49 in 2007, and the metric of 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was also down to 1.27 in 2008, compared to 1.36 the previous year.

You can check out NHTSA's full report here (Warning: PDF) and get a full breakdown on the stats from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety here.

[Source: NHTSA, IIHS | Image: Gabriel Bouys/Getty/AFP]