A report released this week in the Journal Traffic Injury Prevention found that over the past five years, the United States has enjoyed the greatest decrease in car accident fatalities since World War II. Between 2005 and 2009, wrote Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan, such deaths have decreased 22 percent, due primarily to air bag improvements and the country’s economic downturn.
“A reduction of such magnitude over such a short time has not occurred since road safety statistics were first kept (starting in 1913), except for the reductions during World War II,” they wrote. “We were amazed by the magnitude of this,” Sivak told Reuters in a subsequent phone interview.
This is great news for safety advocates, who have consistently asked Congress to push for the kinds of technological advances that led to improved air bags and seat belts, which were both praised by the encouraging study. But the country’s unfortunate economic condition also deserves credit for the drop in traffic deaths, as the population is driving less in order to reduce spending and save gas. “This supports the notion that people are cutting down on travel and staying closer to home,” said Sivak. “Traffic on local streets has increased.”
Despite the report’s good news, its authors were careful to note that the country has a long way to go when it comes to auto safety and distracted driving in particular, which actually increased as a factor in fatal crashes by 42 percent. Cutting down on distracted driving, which includes cell phone use, eating, and talking to other passengers, has been a major priority for Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, as it is responsible for nearly 6,000 auto deaths and 500,000 injuries each year.
Distracted driving aside, the Journal report serves as an important reminder to stay safe on the roads and embrace technological solutions for safe driving throughout 2011.
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