The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that traffic fatalities on American highways in 2010 were down by 2.9 percent, marking the fifth consecutive year of declines. The 32,885 deaths - lowest total since 1949 - came even though drivers here covered nearly 46 billion more miles, an uptick of 1.6 percent, compared to 2009.

"While we have more work to do to continue to protect American motorists, these numbers show we're making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation's roadways," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Thanks to the tireless work of our safety agencies and partner organizations over the past few decades, to save lives and reduce injuries, we're saving lives, reducing injuries, and building the foundation for what we hope will be even greater success in the future."

According to updated data released by NHTSA, the 2010 fatality rate of 1.10 per 100 million vehicle miles was the lowest in recorded history, down from the 1.15 figure in 2009. The figures showed that crash-related deaths dropped in most vehicle categories, including cars and light trucks; although the numbers did rise for motorcycles and large trucks as well as for pedestrians. Despite an impressive 4.9 percent decline in the number of deaths related to drunk driving, the 10,228 lives lost to that cause still accounted for roughly a third of the entire 2010 total. 

As part of this data update, NHTSA also unveiled a new measure of fatalities related to distracted driving, which it dubbed "distraction-affected crashes." A more narrowly focused tweak of the agency's existing Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), it zeroes in on distractions most likely to affect crash involvement, such as those caused by dialing a cellular phone or texting as well as for distractions by an outside person/event. According to NHTSA, these "distraction-affected crashes" were responsible for an estimated 3,092 fatalities in 2010.

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