Auto Deaths Decline in 40 States; Less Driving, More Seat Belt Use Cited

February 6, 2009

Automobile fatalities declined in 40 states in 2008, according to a survey of state highway safety agencies, an early sign that traffic deaths could dip to their lowest levels in four decades.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety departments, said that vehicle deaths dropped in 40 states and the District of Columbia out of 44 states they surveyed. The average decline was 10.7 percent, the safety group said.

“Clearly, the high gas prices in the first part of the year and the difficult economy in the second half caused people to drive less, thus reducing fatalities. However, there’s more occurring here than just economic factors,” said Barbara Harsha, the organization’s executive director.

Harsha said the declines could also be attributed to seat belt use reaching a record high of 83 percent in 2008 and an increased enforcement of traffic laws. Many states also reported drivers reducing their speed to boost their fuel efficiency, she said.

Among large states, Florida’s highway fatalities dropped 6.8 percent, Illinois’ fell by 16 percent, Ohio’s declined by 4 percent and Michigan’s were down by 7.7 percent. Georgia saw decreases of 12 percent and New Jersey’s fatalities dropped 18 percent, according to the survey.

Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia all saw declines of 20 percent or more.

Fatalities increased in Vermont, Wyoming, Delaware and New Hampshire. Several large states, including California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, did not participate in the survey.

The safety association cautioned that the surveys, which were conducted during the week of January 26, were estimates and the final figures could vary.

But the results were consistent with a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December that found auto fatalities dropped 10 percent in 2008 from the months of January though October.

The government said in December there were 31,110 auto fatalities during the first 10 months of 2008, a 9.8 percent decline over the same period in 2007, when there were 34,502 fatalities.

If the trend held up during the year’s last two months, highway deaths could reach their lowest level in the 42 years since NHTSA began keeping record. Final numbers for 2008 are expected later this year.

The Federal Highway Administration, which counts the numbers of cars on the road, has reported steep declines in the number of miles Americans are driving each month beginning in late 2007 and continuing through the first three quarters of 2008.


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