Recession Keeping People Off Roads, Alive

The Associated Press has a story this morning about the bright side of the economic downturn. U.S. highway deaths in 2008 fell to their lowest level since 1961. That’s 9.1 percent lower than the year before. The fatality rate — the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled — also was down It was 1.28 in 2008, the lowest on record. A year earlier it was 1.36.

Preliminary figures released by the government Monday show that 37,313 people died in car crashes last year.

Because of the bad economy and high gas prices part of the year, people drove less. The police also cracked down more on seat belt use and drunk drivers.

“Not only do they drive less but the kinds of driving they do tend to be less risky — there’s less discretionary driving,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It’s not the first time tough economic times have decreased roadway deaths. Fatalities fell more than 16 percent from 1973 to 1974 as the nation dealt with the oil crisis and inflation. Highway deaths dropped nearly 11 percent from 1981 to 1982 during a recession.

Regarding tougher seat belt laws, 27 states allow police to stop motorists whose sole offense is failing to buckle up. The rest of the states, including Washington, have laws that allow tickets for seat belt violations if motorists are stopped for other violations. New Hampshire, believe it or not, has no seat belt law for adults.

National seat belt use in 2008 climbed to 83 percent, a record. Washington has the third-highest seat belt use, at 97.2 percent. Michigan is first with 97.2 percent and Hawaii second with 97 percent.

Even with the declines, more than 100 people die on U.S. roads every day.

State-by-state highway death totals will be available later in the year.

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