Traffic fatalities on U.S. roadways have dropped to the lowest levels in more than six decades, according to data released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Those killed in automobile accidents fell 2.9 percent nationwide from 2009 to 2010, with fewer fatalities reported in 31 states. Data showed particularly significant declines in Florida, Louisiana and other states recently enacting laws aimed at curbing traffic fatalities.
While rates continued their steady decent, the new figures revealed some areas of concern. Pedestrian deaths, for example, climbed 4.2 percent while pedestrian injuries jumped 19 percent.
Traffic safety advocates applauded the mostly good news, but emphasized that plenty of room remains for improvement.
“We have an opportunity to take advantage of these low numbers,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research.
Nelson attributed the fewer fatalities to improved roadways, better vehicle technology and safer drivers. The economic downturn also played a role in swaying motorists’ driving habits, he said.
Still, economic factors haven’t slowed driving in most areas. Total vehicle miles traveled in 2010 increased by 1.6 percent to nearly 3 million nationwide, according to Federal Highway Administration data.
California (-375), Florida (-115) and Louisiana (-114) reported the largest yearly decreases in traffic fatalities.
AAA said recent legislation passed in these and other states helped to push down traffic fatalities. Florida implemented a primary seat belt law in 2009, allowing law enforcement to conduct traffic stops exclusively for seat belt violations. Louisiana also strengthened its ban on texting while driving, making it a primary offense beginning in August 2010.
Connecticut, Michigan and Pennsylvania reported the highest year-over-year increases in fatalities. The NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System tracks all accidents occurring on public roadways in which an individual dies within 30 days of the crash.
Many opting to walk or use public transportation also remain vulnerable. NHTSA reported pedestrian fatalities, included in the overall figures, increased from 4,109 to 4,280 in 2010.
David Goldberg, spokesman for the Transportation for America campaign, said most pedestrian fatalities occur on arterial roads in urban areas. These roadways, he said, are often not designed to accommodate pedestrians.
“They’re too fast, too wide, and in many cases, way over capacity,” Goldberg said.
Transportation for American, a Washington-based coalition of groups advocating transportation issues, published a report earlier this year ranking the “most dangerous” metropolitan areas.
Goldberg said traffic engineers should incorporate more crosswalks in roadways. In some areas, pedestrians must walk far out of their way to the nearest crosswalk.
“We have to look at how these roads are being used now and that there’s a different population there,” he said.
Some speculate that distracted pedestrians with cell phones and other devices explain the hike in deaths. However, there is currently no clear evidence linking the two, Goldberg said.
Other types of fatal accidents showing yearly increases include those involving large trucks and people age 55 and older.
Select your state below to view traffic fatality totals from 1994-2010:
Powered by Tableau Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration