Traffic deaths and injuries were down across all categories tracked, including a 4.9-percent reduction in fatalities in so-called light trucks—SUVs, minivans, and pickups. Perhaps most significant was a decline in motorcycle fatalities, down 16 percent, for the first time in 11 years.
Injuries from traffic accidents also fell across the board, led by a 14-percent reduction in pedestrian injuries and a 6.7-percent reduction in injuries among passenger-car occupants.
The report represents the initial findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts publication, which tracks fatality and injury rates per mile traveled, as well as absolute numbers.
The overall reductions in deaths and injuries are not just because people are driving less. The fatality and injury rates also declined. NHTSA calculates the fatality and injury rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Compared with 2008, the total number of miles Americans drove last year was roughly flat, up just 0.2 percent. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled dropped 10 percent from 2008 to 2009, slightly more than the overall drop in fatalities.LaHood credited drunk driving enforcement and increased use of seat belts as major factors in the decline. The NHTSA has been aggressively stepping up efforts at traffic enforcement and ramping up vehicle safety standards such as making electronic stability control standard for 2012. Further, Consumer Reports has seen car shoppers place an increased priority on safety, a market force certain to motivate automakers.
Whatever is behind such a large decline, it's clearly an enormous benefit to consumers to reduce the risk of any given trip ending in catastrophe. We hope the downward trend continues.
See our report on how Consumers Union feels the automotive safety net could be improved.
Learn more about car safety in our special section.
For a dramatic video showing how car safety has improved, check out the director’s cut 2009 Chevrolet Malibu vs 1959 Bel Air crash test.