NHTSA: Early 2010 U.S. Traffic Fatality Estimates Reveal Record Low

If you’re a big vehicle safety buff, you’ll presumably be happy to learn American drivers have collectively managed to lower the number of traffic fatalities in 2010.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is constantly collecting all types of traffic-related data for the United States, and annual fatalities are a big one. According to early estimates, 2010 looked like a record year for safety as the number of recorded traffic fatalities hit its lowest mark ever. If the NHTSA projections are found to be correct, drivers nationwide can pat themselves on the back (not while driving) for helping register a 3-percent decline in the number of fatalities, over the 2009 total.

"Last year's drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news and it proves that we can make a difference," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day. We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first."

The good news builds on a record 2009 too, when traffic fatalities were at its lowest since 1954.

The NHTSA expects the 2010 fatality total to be 32,788, and that’s in spite of a year-over-year increase in the number of miles driven.  In 2009, the fatality total was 33,808.

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Regional breakdowns were provided by the NHTSA. Most states lowered their fatality count, but as the graphic shows, the Northeast picked up a couple points. The biggest percentage drop came courtesy of the Pacific Northwest, which consists of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. This region individually witnessed its traffic fatalities drop 12 percent.

Americans drove a total of three trillion miles in 2010, the third-highest annual number ever recorded and most since 2007. It’s an estimated increase of 20.5 billion miles from the 2009 figure, a 0.7-percent increase. With 32,788 fatalities, the fatality rate works out to be 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles travel, the lowest recorded since 1949. In 2009, the fatality rate was 1.13 per 100 million driven miles.

Although we can thank vehicle safety innovations for the drop in fatalities, we can’t help but believe that safer drivers played some role too. Until teleportation technology is able to whisk driver and passenger away from imminent collision, we can only rely on our wits and the metal cocoons protecting us…

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