Illinois authorities say 2009 was the safest year for state roads since the 1920s. In Wisconsin, too, traffic fatalities were at a historically low level in 2009.
Last year was the first time since 1921 in Illinois that the number of people killed in crashes was fewer than 1,000.
That’s more than 100 fewer traffic deaths than 2008. In 2007, there were more than 1,200 traffic deaths.
Transportation officials say the number of crash-related deaths in Illinois has been falling since 2003.
At the same time, seat belt usage has been steadily increasing, from 76 percent in 2003 to nearly 92 percent in 2009.
Authorities say they’ve targeted the ” Fatal Five” violations that are linked to more traffic deaths, including speeding, not wearing seat belts, improper lane usage, following too closely and driving under the influence.
As of Dec. 30, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had recorded 542 fatalities, including pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s nearly 8 percent lower than 2008 and is not far from the record low, 526, in 1944.
Anne McCartt, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the bad economy is likely pushing roadway fatalities down, since people are driving less.
There were similar reductions during World War II, the energy crisis in the early 1970s and the less-dramatic recession in the early 1980s. After each downturn, fatality trends reversed and began to rise again.
Wisconsin roadway fatalities were also down nearly 20 percent from 2007 to 2008.
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