An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
September 09, 2010
The U.S. Department of Transportation said that in 2009 traffic deaths fell to 33,808, down almost 10 percent from the year before. It was the fewest deaths since 1950, a particularly dramatic figure when you consider that the country's population was less than half of what it is today.
In another key measure of safety, the deaths per 100 million miles fell to a record low, down to 1.13 deaths from 1.26 the year before. And that was even as the number of miles driven per year increased slightly.
Experts attributed the decline, part of a long-term pattern, to safer cars -- air bags, including the growing use of side air bags; antilock brakes; electronic stability controls; and warning devices for distracted drivers.
That's likely why the number of people injured in crashes fell for a 10th straight year, to an estimated 2.2 million.
The recession was a factor, cutting down on the amount of discretionary and pleasure driving. That may be why motorcycle deaths fell by 16 percent to 4,462, breaking 11 straight years of annual increases.
Aggressive enforcement of drunken-driving laws seemed to have had an impact as well. Alcohol-related fatalities declined 7.4 percent last year, to 10,839 deaths.
And maybe the drivers are getting smarter; 85 percent of Americans are wearing seat belts.
Whatever the mix of factors, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was right to call it "a landmark achievement for public health and safety."
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