Despite having driven 21 billion additional miles in 2010, versus 2009, Americans were safer yet on the roadways.
Freshly released numbers from the federal government showing highway fatalities at their lowest rate since 1949—and, technically, "the lowest level in recorded history," as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts it here.
That's particularly impressive as Americans drove an additional 21 million miles in 2010 versus 2009.
Nationally, fatalities were down three percent, to a total of 32,788 in 2010, based on early figures released this week. Adjusted, that's 1.09 deaths per million miles traveled in 2010, versus 1.13 in 2009. And it's a 25-percent drop in fatalities in just five years.
Although it does depend on what region of the U.S. you're talking about. In a single year, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska posted the greatest drops in fatalities—all of them were down by 12 percent—while Arizona, California, and Hawaii were all down by 11 percent from 2009. Much of the South and Southeast posted significant improvements, too. Fatalities were up about 18 percent in Maine and New England; up nearly four percent in the Midwest region (stretching from Ohio and Michigan through to Minnesota), and up about two percent in the region that includes New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
During 2009, fatalities also dropped to record lows, with last year's numbers the lowest since 1954.
Safety officials will no doubt be watching the 2011 numbers, as fatality rates again started rising for the last half of 2010, as drivers again started covering more miles in their vehicles.
"Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in an official release. "We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first."
Ray LaHood and President Barack Obama
In a blog post on the news, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood emphasized that the agency will continue its enforcement programs for seatbelt use, driving under the influence, and distracted driving. For the latter, LaHood pointed to federal government's distracted-driving campaign, the Faces of Distracted Driving.
Newer, safer vehicles have also contributed to the gains, of course; in official NHTSA new-vehicle crash-test conditions, the average probability of injury for drivers was halved from 1995 to 2008.
LaHood also pointed to several measures including Safety Edge roadway surfaces—which lessen the chances of loss of control and or rollover if a motorists swerves off (and back onto) the roadway—and highway rumble strips and cable barriers as increasing safety for U.S. motorists.