WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 was the lowest since 1954, declining for the 15th consecutive quarter.
According to early projections from the U.S. Department of Transportation, last year's fatality rate, which takes into account the number of miles traveled, reached the lowest level ever recorded. Still, safety officials said that more must be done to reduce distracted and impaired driving.
“This is exciting news, but there are still far too many people dying in traffic accidents,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Drivers need to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their focus on the road in order to stay safe.”
The projected fatality data for 2009 places the highway death count at 33,963, a drop of 8.9 percent compared to the 37,261 deaths reported in 2008. The fatality rate for 2009 declined to the lowest on record, down to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from 1.25 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2008.
“We want to see those numbers drop further,” said David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “We must continue our efforts to ensure seat belts are always used and stay focused on reducing distracted and impaired driving.”
NHTSA attributed the decline in 2009 to a combination of factors, including campaigns like “Click It or Ticket” and “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” Safer roads and safer vehicles were also cited as factors.
NHTSA annually collects crash statistics from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to produce annual reports on traffic fatality trends. The agency said it intends to update 2009 estimates regularly as more data become available.
The final counts for 2009 are slated to be made available this summer. The preliminary fatality statistics are available here.