Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood deserved to be proud this week, when he announced that according to preliminary data, highway fatalities across the country had dropped to their lowest levels in 54 years. Fatality numbers for 2009 were 9% lower than they were in 2008. The DOT estimates that there were 33,960 accident fatalities in 2009. Compare that to just four years ago in 2005, when there were 37,261 fatalities.
Obviously that’s good news, although 33,000+ deaths in 365 days are still far too many to stomach for Indiana injury lawyers.
Much of this decline can be traced to the fact that…
• More people are wearing seat belts than ever before, with a national rate of 84%.
• The cars we drive are much safer than they were just a decade ago.
• The number of drunk driving accidents across the country is declining, as states toughen their laws against impaired driving.
In Indiana, we have even more reason to be encouraged at the drop in fatality rates. In 2009, our state recorded the lowest highway fatality rate in more than 80 years. Data from December shows that there were approximately 680 deaths in highway accidents in Indiana last year, down from about 814 in 2008.
Sec. Ray LaHood rightly cautions against any over optimism arising from this drop. While he did not mention the “R” word in relation to the cause of this decline, it’s a fact that Americans are traveling much lesser during this recession. Lower rates of travel began during the summer of 2008 due to a spike in gas prices, and then continued after the stock market crash in the last quarter of 2008. High unemployment rates means that fewer numbers of Americans are traveling even to work, let alone for recreational purposes. Whether those low accident fatality numbers will stay the same once the economy recovers, is anyone’s guess.