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Finally some good news during this recession, a recent AP article related automobile fatalities declined in 40 states in 2008, based upon a survey of state highway safety agencies. The piece noted that traffic deaths could dip to their lowest levels in four decades. The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety departments, said that automobile deaths dropped in 40 states out of 44 states surveyed. The average was a 10.7 percent decline.

According to Barbara Harsha, the organization’s executive director, "Clearly, the high gas prices in the first part of the year and the difficult economy in the second half caused people to drive less, thus reducing fatalities. However, there’s more occurring here than just economic factors," Harsha said the declines could also be attributed to increased seat belt use which reached a record high of 83 percent in 2008 and an increased enforcement of traffic laws. Many states have also reported that drivers seem to be reducing their speed to boost gas mileage, she said.

Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia all saw declines of 20 percent or more. Unfortunately, deaths increased in Vermont, Wyoming, Delaware and New Hampshire. Several large states, including California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, did not participate in the survey. The results of the survey are consistent with a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December. That report declared auto deaths dropped 10 percent in 2008 during the months of January through October. The report noted there were 31,110 auto fatalities in the first 10 months of 2008, an almost a 10 percent decline over the same period in 2007, when there were 34,502 fatalities.

If the trend continues, highway deaths could reach their lowest level in the 42 years since the NHTSA began keeping record. Final numbers for 2008 are expected within the coming months.

It does seem this recession has a small silver lining. The Federal Highway Administration, which counts the numbers of cars on the road, has reported steep declines in the number of miles Americans are driving each month beginning in late 2007 and continuing through the first three quarters of 2008. Less driving means less opportunity for tragedy on the highways. Let’s hope the trend continues when the good times come back.

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