Highway Fatalities at Lowest Level Ever, But More Action Needed

Safer Highways Continue to Play Large Role in Reduction in Fatalities

(Washington, DC) — The Roadway Safety Foundation today expressed its delight over the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) final 2009 data of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national resource documenting all fatal motor vehicle crashes that occur on public U.S. roadways.  The news is encouraging, with total fatalities in 2009 (33,808) down 9.7 percent from 2008. NHTSA reports that this is the lowest number recorded since 1950, and that the fatality rate – 1.13 fatalities per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) – is the lowest ever documented.

With traffic crashes still the leading cause of death for Americans between 3 and 34 years old, however, Greg Cohen, Executive Director of the Roadway Safety Foundation, says now is not the time to get comfortable.

“This fatality count remains unacceptable,” Cohen said. “The Roadway Safety Foundation is pleased that the downward trend in highway fatalities continued in 2009, but now is the time to do more – not less – to build on that momentum.”

Because roughly one-third of traffic fatalities are related to the roadway environment itself, Cohen stressed the importance of implementing lifesaving engineering countermeasures – such as rumble strips, roundabouts, and median barriers – on roads across the country.

“This issue needs to be tackled from a variety of angles,” he said. “We need safe drivers and safe vehicles to be traveling on forgiving roadways. We know shoulder rumble strips, for example, can reduce run-off-the-road crashes by up to 80 percent. Their popularity is growing across the country, and we need to keep that up.”

A number of factors have been cited as contributing to the dramatic reduction in fatalities every year since 2006, not least being the downturn in VMT likely caused by the economic crisis. But a report prepared for the American Traffic Safety Services Association that was released in June (Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) Obligations and Fatalities on U.S. Highways: Final Report) examined a variety of these factors, and found that a significant benefit came from funding increases for roadway safety engineering projects under the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), established under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

“This study was encouraging,” Cohen said, “because it provided concrete evidence that the engineering enhancements being adopted around the country truly are driving down fatalities. Especially in tough economic times, when resources are scarce, this reminds us that funding for these projects is money well spent, and that such improvements should remain high on our priority list given the staggering number of people killed on our roads.”

Headquartered in Washington, DC, The Roadway Safety Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, educational and charitable organization whose mission is to reduce the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities through enhancements to roadway systems and their environment.