- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

Highway fatalities have reached the lowest level ever recorded nationwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday the number of motorists killed from January through March 2009 declined by 9 percent, to 7,689 motorists, from the same period a year ago. Motor vehicle fatalities continued to fall to levels not seen since records began being kept in 1961.

Record-high seat-belt use, an increase in police patrols and crackdowns on drunken driving greatly impacted the results, as has the recession, said Jonathan Adkins, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington

Clearly, a big factor is the economy, Mr. Adkins said. People aren’t driving as much — there aren’t as many optional trips being taken right now. We do think that even though speeding has become less of a problem because of gas prices, people will slow down to save a buck but not necessarily to save a life.

Speeding has been neglected across the nation, and it’s an issue law enforcement needs to pay attention to, he added.

There’s not a political will to enforce it even though speeding contributes to a third of all fatalities, Mr. Adkins said. The public doesn’t see speeding the same way they see other infractions. Anyone who has been on our area roads knows this firsthand. When you’re speeding and you’re in a crash, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a seat belt or not — you’re not likely to survive.

The District’s traffic fatalities have decreased over the past decade. As of July 1, 17 motorists had died in 2009, down two from this time last year. Thirty states and the District have enforced stricter seat-belt laws, allowing police to ticket motorists solely for not wearing their seat belts.

An estimated 37,261 motorists died nationwide in 2008, the lowest number since 1961. If this year’s trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people will die in 2009. However, motorcycle deaths have increased for the 11th straight year in a row and account for 14 percent of all highway fatalities.

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