Whether you credit cracking down on drunk drivers, the use of new technology or simply better-behaved drivers, highway fatalities have fallen to a half-century low, according to newly-released government data.
Any way you look at the numbers they’re good news. Total roadway deaths plunged 9.7%, last year, to 33,808, compared with 37,423 fatalities in 2008. The latest figures, according to the Department of Transportation, are the lowest since 1950. The highway death rate peaked in 1988 at 47,087.
And it’s significant to note that there were a lot fewer drivers on the road, six decades ago, clocking far fewer miles each year. Significantly, the 2009 DoT data show the highway death rate dipped to just 1.13 per 100 million miles driven. That’s down from 1.26 in 2009.
The news was received with a mix of optimism and caution. Consider it a “landmark achievement,” proclaimed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, but he went on to stress “We have a long way to travel” before achieving a goal laid out by the government – and a small but growing number of automakers – to achieve zero highway deaths.