New information released by the Department of Transportation indicates that the total number of Americans who died as the result of highway accidents in 2009 fell to a level not seen since 1950. According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, statistics from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and related NHTSA data showed 33,808 fatalities last year, compared to 33,186 in 1950.

That total works out to 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to the 1.26 figure recorded in 2008 when 37,423 people died in car crashes. This drop is even more significant given that the estimated vehicle miles traveled in 2009 rose by 0.2 percent from the previous 12 months. Equally good news, the total number of people injured in vehicle accidents also declined by an estimated 5.5 percent from 2008, marking the 10th consecutive year of decreases in that category, as well. Also noteworthy, fatalities declined among motorcyclists, with the 850 number finally breaking what had been 11 consecutive years of rising numbers for that group.

According to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, "these numbers reflect the tangible benefits of record seat belt use and strong anti-drunk driving enforcement campaigns." On the latter front, the data found that alcohol-impaired driving fatalities dropped by 7.4 percent last year compared to 2008 and that 33 states and Puerto Rico experienced a decline in that category during 2009. Overall, forty one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all saw reductions in overall fatalities, with the biggest declines in Florida (down 422) and Texas (down 405).

While encouraged by those figures, Strickland still sees room for serious improvement. "We are still losing more than 30,000 lives a year on our highways, and about a third of these involve drunk driving. We will continue to work with our state partners to strictly enforce both seat belt use and anti-drunk driving laws across this nation, every day and every night."

Distracted driving has also become a hot-button issue for DOT and NHTSA, and to that end, Secretary LaHood will oversee a National Distracted Driving Summit later this month in Washington, D.C. The meeting will bring together leading transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement, industry representatives, researchers and victims affected by distraction-related crashes to share ideas on how to address both the challenges and the opportunities that exist to develop a more effective national anti-distracted driving program.

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