Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Traffic deaths lowest since 1950

nhtsa_smart_car_crash.top.jpg by Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Traffic deaths have hit their lowest level since 1950, the year fatalities behind the wheel began to be tracked, according to the latest government statistics.

Car crashes killed 33,808 in 2009, a nearly 10% drop from the year before, according to data from the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There were 33,186 deaths on U.S. roads in 1950.

The decline in fatalities occurred despite a slight increase in the number of miles actually driven. The fatality rate, meaning the number of deaths per vehicle mile driven in the country, was 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven, the lowest it has ever been, NHTSA said.

"At the Department of Transportation, we are laser-focused on our top priority: safety," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Today's announcement shows that America's roads are the safest they've ever been. But they must be safer. And we will not rest until they are."

Besides safer vehicles and an increase in people buckling their seatbelts -- 85% of drivers now use their seatbelts, LaHood said during a press conference -- a weak economy may also have been a factor in the reduction.

During an economic decline, people make fewer trips for entertainment and enjoyment and those trips tend more often to be deadly, LaHood said. Given that, traffic deaths will probably increase as the economy improves, he said, but they are not likely to return to past levels.

Alcohol-related traffic deaths, one of the leading types of fatal traffic accidents, declined by 7.4% between 2008 and 2009, NHTSA said. Last year 10,839 people were killed in alcohol related crashes, the agency said, about a third of all traffic deaths.

Drunk driving will continue to be a major focus of NHTSA's auto safety efforts, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, said.

"We will not rest until this deadly crime stops," he said in a press conference.

Deaths declined in all vehicle categories last year, LaHood said, including motorcycles. 850 fewer people died riding motorcycles in 2009 compared to the year before. This follows 11 years of increases in motorcycle deaths which Strickland attributed to states repealing mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. Strickland attributed part of the decline to better education on motorcycle safety as well as people taking fewer discretionary motorcycle trips because of the weak economy.

All traffic accidents, fatal or not, declined by 5.3% between 2008 and 2009, the agency said.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 3 and 34, NHTSA said. To top of page

Find Your Next Car
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 22,349.59 -9.64 -0.04%
Nasdaq 6,426.92 4.23 0.07%
S&P 500 2,502.22 1.62 0.06%
Treasuries 2.26 -0.02 -0.70%
Data as of 7:45am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 25.02 -0.14 -0.56%
Advanced Micro Devic... 13.30 -0.11 -0.82%
Apple Inc 151.89 -1.50 -0.98%
General Electric Co 24.87 0.12 0.48%
Ford Motor Co 11.84 0.12 1.02%
Data as of Sep 22
Sponsors

Sections

The shutdown, which raised protests from navigator groups, will occur from midnight to noon on on all but one Sunday. More

As if Uber's new CEO didn't already have his work cut out for him, Dara Khosrowshahi has to deal with losing London. More

When you're making big career decisions, you turn to your mentors and your trusted peers. But how do you find these mentors and trusted peers in the first place? More