Tom Warne Report, 14 May 2012
WASHINGTON – Highway deaths in 2011 dropped to their lowest rate since record-keeping began in 1921, according to preliminary government data released this week. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator’s early estimate of last year’s fatalities said 32,310 deaths in vehicle crashes last year was a 1.7 percent decline from the previous year, and is the lowest recorded in 60 years.
Safety experts attribute the drop to several factors, including the decline in driving due to a weak economy, better safety equipment in cars, more seat belt wearing and efforts to cut drunk driving. Overall, traffic deaths have fallen 26 percent since 2005.
Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the trend is a good sign, but cautioned against complacency. “You are still losing 32,000 people a year,” Gillan said. “And we still don’t know whether when the economy comes back and is really robust, what that is going to do.” In the past, when “the economy bounces back and people are doing more discretionary driving and things like that,” highway deaths have gone back up, she said.
The number of miles driven on U.S. highways declined last year by 35.7 billion miles, or 1.2 percent, according to the safety administration. There were 1.09 deaths for every 100 million miles traveled down from 1.11 deaths in 2010, and is the lowest rate on record, the NHTSA reported.
The decline is clearly the product of many factors. Miles driven reduced at a lesser rate than the fatalities so attributing the improvement only to the economy would be misleading. I believe continued improvement in the quality of our roads and highways, enforcement efforts and the many changes and improvements in our vehicles also contributed to this new record. When I was the director of UDOT we had a very serious issue with fatalities on SR-6 from Spanish Fork to Price. Over the last ten years the agency has built passing lanes and widened major parts of the highway resulting in a marked reduction in deaths. On the side of safety equipment in cars I am the personal benefactor of air bags having just survived serious injury just last week when a deer and I met late one night on a rural highway in Indiana. 32,000 is good; let’s keep up the momentum. TW