Highway deaths have plummeted to their lowest levels in more than 60 years, helped by more people wearing seat belts, better safety equipment in cars and efforts to curb drunken driving.
Government officials said the number of deaths was still significant but credited efforts on multiple fronts to make roadways safer including improved car safety features, increased seat belt use, and an almost nationwide crackdown on drunk driving.
Even more encouraging is the fact that fatalities were down despite the fact that vehicle miles traveled were up.
Safety equipment such as side air bags that guard the head and midsection in a crash and anti-rollover technology like electronic stability control are becoming standard equipment on new cars and trucks.
Many states have been more vigilant on drunken driving. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities fell more than 7 percent in 2009 from the previous year.
And seat belt use, the most basic defense in a crash, reached an all-time high of 84 percent in 2009. Several states have allowed police to stop a vehicle for failure to wear a seat belt even if the officer doesn’t detect another driving violation like speeding.