Last year saw the lowest number of fatalities and injuries ever recorded. This has to be seen as encouraging news. And the people who worked hard to help drive those numbers down deserve some thanks for their fantastic work.
But let's be clear; road fatality numbers are nothing to celebrate. If you lost a loved one in 2009 to a crash, you are unlikely to take any comfort in knowing that highway deaths declined last year to the lowest level since 1950. And nearly 34,000 motor vehicle fatalities on America's roads is still unacceptable.
So we are not about to rest or relent on safety.
Why did the numbers of fatalities and injuries go down even as miles driven went up?
- Cars are getting safer--as crash avoidance and crash worthiness technologies improve;
- Roadways are getting safer--with safer intersections, better signs and lighting, and more effective crash barriers; and
- Drivers are getting safer--buckling their seatbelts, not getting behind the wheel when impaired, and keeping their eyes and attention on the road, not on their cell phones.
Also, discretionary driving has likely been reduced due to economic conditions. These are trips--like going out in the evening--that don't involve the daily commute, and they tend to be higher risk.
Where can we make even greater inroads? National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland pointed the way:
"One-third of our road fatalities are caused by impaired driving. And in a recent survey, more than 17 million American drivers admitted they've been behind the wheel after drinking. People have to know that drunk driving is not some discretionary notion of risk; drunk driving is a crime, and it kills."
I want to thank Administrator Strickland and everyone at NHTSA for their tremendous dedication. From vehicle safety to impaired driving to seat belt use to distraction to child safety seats, they have worked tirelessly, and today's data is a testament to their commitment.
Look, this DOT remains laser-focused on safety.
That means reminding Americans to click it or get a ticket. It means reminding Americans that if they’re over the limit, they’ll be under arrest. And it means reminding Americans that the safest way to get from one place to another is to hang up and drive.
America's roads are the safest they've ever been, but they can be safer. And we will not rest until they are.