Highway Fatalities at Lowest Point in More than 60 Years, NHTSA Says

AASHTO Journal, 14 December 2012

Highway traffic fatalities are continuing to decline, reaching their lowest level in more than six decades and experiencing a 26 percent drop in the last six years (from 2005 to 2011), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday. Thirty-six states experienced a drop in highway deaths in 2011.

The NHTSA numbers also show a 1.9 percent decrease in highway traffic deaths from 2010 to 2011. NHTSA says some of that drop could be attributed to a reduction in vehicle miles traveled over that period. But miles traveled numbers were only down 1.2 percent, suggesting the decrease in highway fatalities outpaced the reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

In 2011, highway deaths involving occupants of passenger cars and light trucks (such as SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks) dropped by 4.6 percent. Fatalities involving drunk drivers decreased by 2.5 percent which, amounted to more than 250 fewer deaths.

Connecticut led the way in traffic fatality reduction in 2011, reporting 100 fewer fatalities from 2010, which amounted to a 31 percent drop from the previous year. North Carolina was a close second, with 93 fewer highway fatalities in 2011 (amounting to a 7 percent drop). Percentage-wise, New Hampshire was just behind Connecticut, dropping highway fatalities by 30 percent in 2011 (with 38 fewer deaths).

Not all the news was good, however. The number of people who lost their lives in crashes that involved distracted driving rose almost 2 percent, which NHTSA said could be attributed at least in part to more reporting and awareness than in the past. Fatalities have also increased for large truck occupants (20 percent), bicyclists (8.7 percent), pedestrians (3 percent), and motorcyclists (2.1 percent).

“The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction.”

The 2011 FARS data is available online at bit.ly/2011hwyfatalities.

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