In fact, substantial declines occurred in virtually every major category, led by declines in passenger car occupant fatalities, which dropped for the sixth year in a row, reaching the lowest level since DOT began keeping records. Light truck occupant fatalities fell for the third straight year. Alcohol-impaired fatalities also declined by more than 9 percent over 2007.
Continuing this trend, the January-March 2009 estimate of 7,689 deaths represents a 9 percent decline from a year ago. It was the 12th consecutive quarterly decline. The fatality rate for the first quarter of 2009 reached 1.12 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Preliminary data collected by the Federal Highway Administration showed that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) during the first 3 months of 2009 declined by about 11.7 billion miles.
“While the number of highway deaths in America has decreased, we still have a long way to go,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
He added that the country has made major strides in increasing seat belt use, curtailing impaired driving, making roads and highways safer, and maximizing vehicle safety, all of which play important roles in the declining death rate.
“This achievement is great for all highway users,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), a trade association for the trucking industry. “We must build upon this and look toward long-term improvements. The trucking industry remains committed to safety and ATA will continue to advance its aggressive safety agenda in an effort to further this outstanding trend.”
In addition to a 12 percent reduction in crash fatalities involving large trucks, the number of truck occupant deaths decreased 16 percent in 2008, from 805 in 2007 to 677. The overall number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States decreased 9.7 percent from 41,259 in 2007 to 37,261 in 2008, the lowest level since 1961.
Programs dedicated to increasing the use of safety belts, coupled with new hours-of-service regulations, which took effect in 2005, have greatly improved highway safety. The truck-involved fatality rate is now at its lowest since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those statistics in 1975.
ATA has an 18-point safety agenda the organization hopes will further reduce the number of highway-related fatalities and injuries for all drivers on the nation's highways. ATA's policies include promoting greater safety belt use by commercial drivers, re-instituting a national maximum speed limit, improved truck crashworthiness standards, speed governing of all trucks, tax incentives for safety technologies and a decade-long initiative to create a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.