NHTSA Says Highway Fatality Rate Dropped 8.9% in 2009, Lowest Since 1954

Safety recalls may be flying in from all directions these days, but according to NHTSA statistics, we’re the safest we’ve ever been on the road. Highway fatalities in the U.S. dropped 8.9 percent in 2009 compared to 2008 to the lowest rate since 1954.

“This is exciting news, but there are still far too many people dying in traffic accidents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Drivers need to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their focus on the road in order to stay safe.”

Highway fatalities in the U.S. have been declining steadily since a small spike in early 2006. 2009 registered an 8.9-percent drop in the fatality rate from 2008 to just 33,963 deaths nationwide. On NHTSA’s deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled scale, the fatality rate has dropped from 1.25 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.16 deaths per vehicle mile traveled, the lowest since records were first collected in 1954.

The NHTSA’s information is based on statistical projections and could change as final reports are made, but an additional 3300 deaths nationwide in 2009 would need to be uncovered to match 2008’s numbers. Assuming the fatality rate continued to decline, the fourth quarter of 2009 will mark the 15th quarter in a row of decreased fatalities.

NHTSA’s projections also show a flatter curve in the fatality rate. Highway fatalities tend to increase during summer months and decrease in the winter, and while fatalities still peaked in August 2009 like they had in the same month in 2007 and 2008, in general 2009 had fewer spikes than the previous two years. February was the safest month on U.S. highways in 2009.
“This continuing decline in highway deaths is encouraging, but our work is far from over,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland. “We want to see those numbers drop further. We will not stop as long as there are still lives lost on our nation’s highways. We must continue our efforts to ensure seat belts are always used and stay focused on reducing distracted and impaired driving.”
NHTSA attributes the decline in highway fatalities to a number of successful programs designed to raise awareness of automotive safety, including stepped-up enforcement of seat belt and drunk driving laws. The agency also credits safer roads and cars, as well as the fact that fewer people have been driving in the past few years thanks to high fuel prices and a sour economy. Interestingly enough, though, Americans actually drove 6.6 billion more miles combined in 2009 than 2008 (a 0.2-percent increase) and fatalities dropped to record lows anyway.
Crash statistics are gathered from all 50 states as well as the District of Colombia and Puerto Rico. NHTSA does not have information yet on the first quarter of 2010, so whether or not our safe streak has continued since the New Year remains to be seen.
Source: NHTSA