Traffic Deaths Are On Decline Across USA

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Road deaths declined in 40 states and the District of Columbia in 2008, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association survey released Wednesday.

The average decline was 10.7 percent, according to the survey of 44 states. It did not include several large states, such as California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported.

Declines of 20 percent or more were seen in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Among other states included in the survey, declines were: 18 percent in New Jersey, 16 percent in Illinois, 12 percent in Georgia, 7.7 percent in Michigan, 6.8 percent in Florida, and 4 percent in Ohio.

Vehicle deaths increased in Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Higher gas prices and economic worries meant that Americans drove less in 2008, which reduced the number of road fatalities, Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP. But she also noted that seat belt use reached a record high of 83 percent in 2008.

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The release reads:

A survey from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that deaths on our nation’s roadways declined significantly in 2008. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia provided preliminary data. Of those, 40 states and D.C. indicated a decline in fatalities, while four indicated an increase. Overall, the average decline was 10.7 percent.

Most surprising about the survey was that many states saw a percentage decline in fatalities higher than their percentage decline in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Most states are not yet able to release an indication of VMT from 2008. Notably, however, of the 19 states that indicated a decline in fatalities and provided an estimate of VMT, 17 reported their fatality percentage decline was more than the percentage decline in VMT—in most cases double, triple or even quadruple the decline in VMT.

What does this all mean? GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha interprets the numbers to mean that a variety of factors may have contributed to the declines in 2008. Harsha says, “Clearly, the high gas prices in the first part of the year and the difficult economy in the second half caused people to drive less, thus reducing fatalities. However, there’s more occurring here than just economic factors.”

According to Harsha, state highway safety agencies report other factors may have contributed to the fatality reduction, including: gains in seat belt use, stronger state laws and increased enforcement of these laws. Harsha notes that multiple states have reported experiencing a reduction in driver speeds mainly because drivers want to improve their fuel efficiency. For example, the speed of the average Oregon driver was down more than 1 MPH in 2008. Harsha notes, “This may not sound like a lot, but reducing driver speeds means that more people are surviving crashes. Drivers may not slow down to save a life, but clearly they will slow down to save a buck.” Harsha expects more states will use the economic argument to urge drivers to slow down.

GHSA’s survey results mirror a December report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In that report, DOT noted that the federal government projects the number of people killed in traffic crashes to reach a new record low for 2008. Early DOT projections revealed a 10 percent drop in deaths for the first 10 months of 2008.

The GHSA survey was conducted during the week on January 26. States were asked for their percent increase/decrease in fatalities and VMT. Fatality data is preliminary and VMT is based on estimates. Fatality estimates generally were based on data from 12 months in 2008 while VMT estimates were based on 11 months of data.

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