America’s 2010 traffic safety numbers are in. And National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and I are pleased to report that, last year, roadway fatalities and injuries fell to their lowest rates ever – and to their lowest numbers since 1949.
But if someone you know was among the 32,885 people killed on our roadways last year, you know that even one death is too many. Whatever progress these numbers indicate, they also tell us that we have more work to do to continue to protect Americans on our roadways.
This record-breaking decline occurred even as Americans drove nearly 3 trillion miles last year. It’s a tribute to the tireless advocacy of our safety agencies and partner organizations over decades. And it’s the result of three important factors:
- Cars are safer – as crash avoidance and crash worthiness technologies continue to improve;
- Roads are safer – with safer intersections, better signs and lighting, improved pavement technologies, and more effective crash barriers;
- Drivers are safer – buckling their seatbelts at record rates and choosing not to get behind the wheel after drinking.
One step we're taking today is unveiling a more accurate way to gauge the crashes related to distracted driving. We’re calling it “distraction-affected crashes,” and last year these crashes killed 3,092 people.
This new measure uses a more focused set of the distractions most likely to result in crashes – like dialing a cell phone or sending a text message while behind the wheel. But, because we've narrowed the potential distractions included in this new indicator, we can't compare these first numbers with the 5,474 “distraction-related” fatalities reported in 2009.
Indeed, all of our evidence suggests that the problem may actually be getting worse.
Other data confirms that driver distraction continues to be a significant safety problem. For example, in a survey we're releasing today, more than three-quarters of the drivers told us they answer calls on all, some, or most trips when they're behind the wheel. They also said there are very few driving situations when they would not use the phone or text, and that they rarely consider traffic situations when deciding to use their phone. That behavior poses a safety threat to everyone on the road.
And, because people are reluctant to admit distracted driving at a crash site, NHTSA believes the number of crashes attributed to distraction could be higher.
So, while the rate and number of fatalities and injuries in this year’s report show progress, we see reason to redouble our resolve. Everybody around DOT wakes up every single day thinking about safety. The fact that deaths and injuries are at the lowest level since 1949 is a big deal, but we have to do more and the American people expect us to do more.
DOT will never let up in our fight to save lives, prevent injuries, and keep the American people safe.