The number of people killed in accidents dropped to 32,788 in 2010, the lowest total since 1949, according to the annual death tally released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Moreover, since 2005, the total number of deaths has dropped by 25 percent.
Three areas of the country, including New England and the Midwest, saw an increase in fatalities, though.
“Last year’s drop in traffic fatalities is welcome news, and it proves that we can make a difference,” LaHood said. “Still, too many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day. We will continue doing everything possible to make cars safer, increase seat belt use, put a stop to drunk driving and distracted driving and encourage drivers to put safety first.”
The reason driving deaths have declined so steeply over the past five years is something of a mystery, but officials and experts point to a combination of factors.
Old cars are being replaced by newer models with more safety features, including air bags and antilock brakes. Roads and highways are built or refurbished with more attention to safety, with features like rumble strips and cable median barriers to separate cars from oncoming traffic. Plus, more and more drivers are using the seat belt.
Figures released on Friday represent totals submitted by the states to the U.S. Transportation Department for the first nine months of the year.
The agency projects totals for the final quarter, a calculation that is usually an accurate predictor of the full year figure.
Americans drove about 20.5 billion miles more in 2010 than they did the year before, the agency said.