Traffic Deaths in 2011 Fewest in Six Decades
Traffic deaths in the USA continued their historic decline last year, falling to the lowest level since 1949, the government announced Monday.
A total of 32,367 motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians died in 2011, a 1.9% decrease from 2010. Last year's toll represents a 26% decline from 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.
The trend may not last, however.
Preliminary data for this year shows that motor vehicle deaths and injuries are trending upward again, said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
"States have been informally reporting to us that the numbers are generally up throughout the year," said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents states on road-safety issues. "We think the increase is likely because of a stronger economy and the low baseline of deaths the last few years."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood attributed the decline in recent years to aggressive enforcement and public education campaigns and continuing improvements in technology aimed at building safer vehicles and roads.
"As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving and driver distraction," LaHood said.
The decline came in a year in which Americans drove 1.2% fewer miles. The nation last year registered the lowest rate of traffic deaths on record: 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.11 in 2010, NHTSA reported.
Key numbers in the 2011 data:
Deaths dropped by 4.6% for occupants of passenger cars and light trucks (including SUVs, minivans and pickups) but rose 20% for occupants of large trucks.
Trucking industry officials suspect there may be a connection between states increasing their speed limits and the increase in deaths for occupants ofl arge trucks, said Sean McNally, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations.
Texas, for example, recently increased the speed limit to 85 mph on Highway 130 between Austin and San Antonio, the fastest in the nation, he noted.
Fatalities rose 8.7% for bicyclists, 3% for pedestrians and 2.1% for motorcycle riders.
"Our culture is beginning to move away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportation," Adkins said. "We need to be able to accommodate all these forms of transportation safely."
Deaths in crashes involving drunken drivers fell 2.5% in 2011, taking 9,878 lives compared with 10,136 in 2010.
For state-by-state comparisons, go to usatoday.com
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