Traffic Deaths Drop to Lowest Since 1954

Natalie Josef
January 7, 2011

According to a recently published report that examined federal data on fatal car crashes conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and published in Traffic Injury Prevention, from 2005 to 2009, U.S. road fatalities dropped from 43,510 to 33,963, a drop of nearly 22 percent.

Except for the reductions experienced during World War II, a drop of this magnitude in such a short period of time has not been seen since road safety statistics were first kept beginning in 1913. In short, it hasn’t been this safe to drive in peacetime America since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line.

The two factors cited in the drop were increased safety measures, especially the use of airbags, and the economic recession.

For the study, University of Michigan researchers, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, analyzed traffic patterns and found an overall 4 percent drop in traffic. They discovered there were decreases in rush hour traffic, less traffic on interstate highways, and fewer crashes involving trucks. They also found that less freight is being shipped via national highways and roads.

"This supports the notion that people are cutting down on travel and staying closer to home. Traffic on local streets has increased,'' Sivak said.

Unfortunately, this decrease in traffic fatalities is coupled with an increase in distracted driving. Federal statistics show that inattentive driving—which includes talking, eating, and using cell phones—has increased by 42 percent in the same period. In 2009, distracted driving was blamed for 16 percent of all road fatalities, or 5,800 deaths.

According to the study, there has also been an increase in the deployment of airbags during car accidents, especially side airbags.

Here are some of the highlights of the study, which examined the time period from 2005 to 2008.

    * South Dakota had the biggest decline in auto-related deaths—32 percent
    * Utah had the highest rise, which was still only 4 percent
    * The number of airbags deployed from the side during fatal accidents rose 220 percent
    * Fatal accidents that involved alcohol fell 6.5 percent
    * Deaths of young drivers (16 to 20) fell by 21 percent
    * Deaths from road rage increased 102 percent
    * Deaths from reckless driving fell nearly 58 percent
    * Morning rush hour fatalities dropped 17 percent


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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