• Apr 1st 2011 at 4:01PM
  • 36
United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that traffic deaths in 2010 were the lowest they've ever been, falling three percent from 2009's record low. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projections, traffic fatalities fell from 33,808 in 2009 to 32,708 in 2010.
The Department of Transportation and NHTSA see the news as evidence that their public awareness campaigns, and stricter enforcement of traffic laws nationwide are working. According to NHTSA, traffic fatalities have steadily dropped in the last five years, falling 25 percent since 2005.

Specifically, the DOT and NHTSA cited programs like Over the Limit, Under Arrest, Click-it or Ticket and LaHood's anti-distracted driving campaign as contributing factors to the drop in fatalities.

The biggest regional drop was in the Pacific Northwest, where fatalities plummeted 12 percent from last year. Arizona, California and Hawaii tied for second, each dropping 11 percent over 2009.

While we applaud most of the campaigns championed by NHTSA and the DOT, we can't help but think that there are probably some larger factors at work here – namely, that Americans are motoring around in vehicles that are safer than ever before thanks to the proliferation of improved safety systems like stability control. Check out the official press release and associated horn-tooting after the jump.

[Source: NHTSA | Image: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty]
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DOT Estimates Three Percent Drop Beneath 2009 Record Low

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the number and rate of traffic fatalities in 2010 fell to the lowest levels since 1949, despite a significant increase in the number of miles Americans drove during the year.

"Last year's drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news and it proves that we can make a difference," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day. We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) early projections, the number of traffic fatalities fell three percent between 2009 and 2010, from 33,808 to 32,788. Since 2005, fatalities have dropped 25 percent, from a total of 43,510 fatalities in 2005. The same estimates also project that the fatality rate will be the lowest recorded since 1949, with 1.09 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the 1.13 fatality rate for 2009. The decrease in fatalities for 2010 occurred despite an estimated increase of nearly 21 billion miles in national vehicle miles traveled.

A regional breakdown showed the greatest drop in fatalities occurred in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, where they dropped by 12 percent. Arizona, California and Hawaii had the next steepest decline, nearly 11 percent.

"The decrease in traffic fatalities is a good sign, but we are always working to save lives," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "NHTSA will continue pressing forward on all of our safety initiatives to make sure our roads are as safe as they can possibly be."

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken a comprehensive approach to reducing roadway fatalities by promoting strong traffic safety laws coupled with high-visibility enforcement and through rigorous vehicle safety programs and public awareness campaigns.

In 2009, Secretary LaHood launched a national anti-distracted driving campaign modeled on other successful NHTSA efforts to reduce fatalities, such as its Over the Limit Under Arrest and Click It Or Ticket campaigns to curb drunk driving and increase seat belt use. The U.S. DOT has launched a dedicated website, Distraction.gov, to provide the public with a comprehensive source of information on distracted driving. DOT has also hosted two national summits devoted to the issue, crafted sample legislation which states can use to adopt distracted driving laws, and initiated pilot law enforcement programs in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY.

NHTSA has also taken action to improve vehicle safety. The agency has urged automakers to swiftly and voluntarily report safety defects to keep the driving public safe. NHTSA has also encouraged the development and use of technologies to prevent crashes, such as electronic stability control, forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. The agency also unveiled an updated 5-star rating system in 2010, which established more rigorous crash-test standards and began providing consumers with improved information about which cars perform best in collisions.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has also been encouraging the use of Safety Edge technology -- which reduces drivers' risk of running off the road by shaping pavement edge -- on new road and highway projects. FHWA has also promoted the use of rumble strips and cable median barriers to separate opposing directions of traffic to reduce the incidence of crossover head-on collisions.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Rowan Paul
      • 4 Years Ago
      Finally. I hope this comes California...
      • 4 Years Ago
      105 per Million... Germany: 45, Nederlands: 43 [2008], Swiss: 42.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ cdtvermyr:

        Just a thought - suburban sprawl and lack of a public transportation infrastructure in the US happened BECAUSE the automobile was invented. And as that infrastructure didn't develop, the NEED for a car remained in place.

        Europe on the other hand developed well before the automobile, and therefore had developed infrastructure to match local geography.

        If you doubt me, just look at New York City. Many people do just fine in a densely-packed pre-automobile-city like NYC without a car, compared to a sprawling post-automobile-city like LA.
        • 4 Years Ago
        True, but you can't really compare any other country to America when it comes to driving. Most american's NEED a car to get around and has a lot longer commutes because it is a big country. Nederlands for example is a tiny and flat country with very good public transport infrastructure, small distances and more people walk or use a bike to get around, this is impossible for most people in America because the distances long and public transportation infrastructure is not available as well as being far too costly and complicated to make. Thankfully America still love the car, unlike Nederland (politicians) who says cars are evil... Germany is similar to Nederlands, but cars are way more common and still considered to be good, comfortable and convenient transport like in it is in America :)
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wonder if ,in the long term trend of decreasing fatality, 2010 has a spike due to cash-for-clunker program. It has sent a lot of the most dangerous vehicles on the road to the junk yard.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Was surprised to learn that speeding accounts for 5% of measured accidents in a 2008 NHTSA study:


      Speeding seems to increase the severity of accidents, but CAUSES a small fraction of them. No wonder NHTSA is hammering on distracted driving, now that cars are built like small tanks, they'll have the largest survivability yield by reducing the foremost cause.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ray LaHood is a moron. I know that wasn't very strongly shown in this particular article, but I just can't look at a picture of the guy anymore without it being the biggest thing on my mind.
        • 4 Years Ago
        David, your reading comprehension skills need some work. The way the guy looks isn't the reason I know he's a moron. The foolish things he says are the reason. Looking at him simply evokes memories of all those incredibly dumb things. Read through it a few more times, and I'm sure you'll get it. Then read though a few of of his ideas, and I'm sure you'll start to feel the same way.

        If the belief that heavier cars are safer doesn't do it, then I'm sure the tremendous focus on phones being a problem despite logic and statistics pointing the other way will. If that still doesn't have you thinking he's a fool, then just notice how improving driver training and enforcement is completely absent in his plans. You'll start being turned off just by the sight of him soon enough.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Wow, thinking someone is a moron just because of the way they look? I bet you're a lot of fun at a party.......
      • 4 Years Ago
      Makes perfect sense that fatalities are dropping. Especially after the Cash for Clunkers program, more people are driving in newer cars which are considerably safer than the typical car 20 years ago. I'd still imagine the number of accidents, though, would rise a little bit for each year more gadgets are accessible to the driver.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Unemployment and tickets left and right.. i bet in last 2 yrs police gave out more tickets than ever.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just love it when politicians and bureaucrats take credit for something they had absolutely nothing to do with.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Very correct statement, Jared!

        And again, 32K people dead is a lot... really big number... And I am not surprised by that 32K number as half of the people in the cars around me talk on the phone, look at websites or tweet, EAT (sometimes with chopsticks or spoon/fork), do their makeups or have dogs in their laps ....
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jared, I take it that you are of the belief, that the good citizens of the auto industry arrived at these ultra safe/efficient vehicles without any prodding from the government whatsoever.

        Sure the industry innovates, but it sometimes takes the governments (globally) cracking the proverbial whip, to get this industry act.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Im sure Unemplyoment also has something to do with this... (kicks rocks)
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually it has more to do with improvement in active saftey features on the cars themselves: Even a Toyota Corolla now comes with stability control, abs and variable brake distribution, which makes it nearly impossible to lose control of the car.
        • 4 Years Ago

        I don't quite follow you... the market for safety, which is people who are interested in a product that is safe and are willing to pay more for it, came about as a result of government regulations?

        We differ in that I think it came about when automakers saw how badly terrible products that put customers lives on the line hurt their bottom line, increasing competition, the evolution of safety tech research and more importantly the rise of the press, and the awareness that it brought to the public conscience(ie Autoblog, news, magazines, etc.).

        That's not to say that NHTSA and their study's hasn't contributed to safety, and that is Governments one lasting contribution to safety that keeps on giving and has helped to make our roads safer. But it is those factors, I believe, not government regulations, that evolved the market for safety and played a large role in the fall of accidents and fatalities.

        It is also odd that while I recognize governments inherent role in making the rules, you don't acknowledge the private sectors obvious contributions to safety - which frankly outnumbers those of Government, as it should... It is fine if you cling out of blind faith to government being the driving force behind this, but please at least consider the R&D on behalf of OEM's, car companies, and research institutes as an equal factor in all of this.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Government is really good for taking credit for something they had nothing to do with it.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Throwback, that might make sense if the statistics were not reported on a per 100 million miles travelled basis...
        • 4 Years Ago
        I have to disagree just because I've seen a lot of other countries where the government never made that big push about safety. In those places people virtually never wear their seat belts and people often choose luxury features over airbags and actually ask for airbagless versions of our cara. The government increased *awareness* a lot which then created this demand. If you don't realize just how important a seatbelt is in a crash you're much less likely to put up with it and ask for it, and the government in the US has done a great job with that. Same thing with stuff like smoking, we smoke a lot ess than Europeans do-if it was all market demand we'd still be smoking in classrooms.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ MarketAndChurch:

        Just a thought - there wasn't really a "market for safety" with cars until many regulations made it one. Heck, in the '50s prior to regulation, there was no such thing as "safety sells".

        Oh, and one other point: five years along also means that more cars that used to be acceptable in the 90's (remember motorized-mouse seat belts?) have since been retired from the nation's fleet - and therefore safety regulations updated since then had an impact in the decline of the number of deaths.

        Am I saying that other forces don't play a role? Sure, the drop in the economy decreased the miles-travelled - and therefore fewer deaths occurred. More attention to DWI by local schools, etc. also play a role.

        But my original response was to the cynic that stated that the government had *nothing* to do with the drop in vehicular deaths.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Noidor:

        "Government is really good for taking credit for something they had nothing to do with it."

        Umm... last I checked:

        Seat belts, infant seats, airbags, side-impact beams, roof-crush standards, antilock brakes, and stability control were all mandated by the Government...

        ... and it's hard to believe that all of these had NOTHING to do with making road travel safer, despite an increase in miles traveled.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ MarketandChurch:

        Case in point:

        The first airbag patent was issued in 1953 - and though the airbag was an optional safety device in the 60's/70's, the "take rate" was notoriously low.

        However, the first regulation requiring supplemental restraints started in 1984 and went into effect in 1989. It was only then that automakers (starting with Chrysler in 1990) made airbags standard across the line.

        Which leads to the use of that fact in marketing - Iacocca mentioned it in their ads, and GM now touts a "class leading 10 airbags" in the Cruze.

        That being said, there are still cars sold elsewhere in the world without airbags as standard equipment - including the Tata Nano or non-US versions of the Kia Rio, as an example. Even Russia's Lada didn't make airbags standard (driver-only, mind you) until a 2004 law there - and that law stirred up alot of outrage because it was backdated to older cars too.
        • 4 Years Ago
        32 000 people is still a helluva lot.
        • 4 Years Ago
        yessir and gas prices hahaha
      • 4 Years Ago
      ya dont think this has anything to do with vehicles becoming more and more safe, do ya?!
      • 4 Years Ago
      thank you! those mf's need to quit acting like there care about people's well being.
      • 4 Years Ago
      With all these recent articles It seems like NHTSA is trying its heart out to seem relevant... I'm thinking they are trying to manufacture a "need" so they don't get chopped come budget time...
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