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U.S. traffic deaths at 61-year low

Improved safety gear is credited for reduced fatalities in 2010 and the lowest rate of deaths per miles traveled in history. Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers also drop.

December 06, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • Highway fatalities fell to 32,885 in 2010, the lowest total since 1949, government statistics show. Above, a vehicle undergoes a side-impact crash test.
Highway fatalities fell to 32,885 in 2010, the lowest total since 1949,… (Handout, IIHS )

Traffic deaths in 2010 fell to their lowest levels in more than 60 years, according to new data from the Department of Transportation.

Safety technology in vehicles has made huge leaps in recent years and has lowered death and injury rates in collisions, analysts say.

Even the base models of 2012 vehicles are now required to have anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, tire pressure sensor monitors and multiple air bags. More expensive vehicles have extra features such as backup cameras and blind-spot warning lights and alerts.

Highway deaths fell to 32,885 for the year, the lowest total since 1949, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. The record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even as U.S. drivers traveled nearly 46 billion more miles during the year, a 1.6% increase over 2009, he said.

"While we have more work to do to continue to protect American motorists, these numbers show we're making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation's roadways," LaHood said.

2010 also had the lowest fatality rate ever recorded, with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010, down from 1.15 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009, the updated information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed.

In another key statistic, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped 4.9% in 2010, to 10,228 lives compared with 10,759 in 2009.

Still, the improvements were not uniform. Fatalities rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders and occupants of large trucks.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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