For all of the high-profile talk these days about automotive safety and whether the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been aggressive enough in performing its duties in policing automakers and minding motorists collective welfare, the organization's latest data on traffic-related highway deaths in the U.S. has revealed one decidedly telling fact has been that puts the overriding reality into a clearer perspective. Results of a preliminary NHTSA study found that the total highway death count for 2009 declined to 33,963, which represents an 8.9-percent drop over the 2008 number. It also reflects the 15th consecutive quarter in which traffic fatalities actually decreased. Even more relevant, the deaths-per-million-miles-driven figure fell from 1.25 to 1.16 -- making it the lowest index in that category since 1954. Although NHTSA's final data won't be presented until mid-summer, there's little reason to believe these statistics are likely to change in any significant manner.

In addition to admitting that today's cars and truck are simply being designed from the ground up for increased passenger survivability, NHTSA's report credits a number of external factors for contributing to the decline in road fatalities. Heading the list are well-publicized campaigns advocating seat-belt use, improved road design and engineering and major law-enforcement efforts against drunk driving.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also released a statement in conjunction with the NHTSA findings in which its president and CEO, Dave McCurdy noted: "Fatalities and serious injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. are at their lowest level in 49 years. This fact is remarkable given that during the same timeframe the number of licensed drivers has more than doubled and annual vehicle miles traveled have more than quadrupled."

McCurdy went on to add, "A range of data demonstrates that our roads are safer today, even with consumers driving more. These results can be attributed to more individuals using their safety belts, rigorous R&D, high quality standards by automakers and regulatory requirements that lead the world. However, even with all of this new technology the safety belt is still among the most fundamental safety devices in any auto."

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