The Pacific Northwest saw one of the largest declines in highway deaths, with a 12% fall in fatalities; this is followed by the western states like Arizona and California which also posted large declines. Although the number of deaths is still significant, efforts on mulitiple fronts have made the roads safer. The largest effort has been the campaign to convince more motorists to wear their seat belts. This, along with safer cars with airbags, are the leading reasons that fatalities are so low.
According to the the U.S. Transportation Department, traffic deaths typically decline during hard economic times, mainly because many motorists cut back on discretionary travel. This is supported by the fact that deaths fell in the early 1980's and early 1990's when the U.S. economy was also struggling. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the number of miles traveled by American drivers in 2010 grew by 20.5 billion, or 0.7% compared with 2009. Seperately, the rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled has hit a record low of 1.09 in 2010.
Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, Barbara Harsha, said "it's a really good sign that fatalities are down despite the fact that vehicle miles traveled is up." Harsha relates this decline to better vehicle technology, safer driving, and safer road designs. Safety equipment in cars like side air bags and anti-rollover technology are becomming standard equipment on new cars and trucks making each new car safer. Another reason for the decline is the fact that many states have become more aggressive about stopping drunk drivers. Alcohol related driving fatalities fell more than 7% in 2009. seat belt use is also at an all-time high noting that 84% of people in cars and trucks were buckling up in 2009. seat belts are the most basic defense in a crash, so higher seat belt usage means lower highway fatalities.
Since highway deaths are at their lowest record since 1949, it means that U.S. roads are becomming safer. Basic things like airbags, both side and front, and seat belt usage have been the major factors in helping reach such low numbers.
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