Woman wearing seat belt

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 32,310 people died last year in traffic accidents, the lowest number since 1949.

NHTSA obtained that number though a statistical projection, which shows that traffic fatalities dropped 1.7 percent compared to 2010 numbers. The announcement, released today, also shows Americans collectively drove 1.2 percent less in 2011 – dropping 35.7 billion vehicle miles traveled. (NHTSA expects the fatality rate to drop in 2011 as well, predicting 1.09 American deaths for every 100 million miles driven.)

U.S. traffic fatalities have dropped seven years in a row, with the 43,510 people dying in traffic accidents in 2005. NHTSA attributes a number of factors to the continued decrease in fatalities including increased seat belt use and more safety devices inside vehicles.

By region, NHTSA noted that accidents in New England dropped the most, 7.2 percent, while accidents in California and Hawaii increased the most, 3.3 percent, compared to the year before.