Yes, despite the ever-present dangers of distracted driving and demonically-possessed Toyotas, US highways are safer than ever [full PDF report here]. Overall deaths in 2009 were at their lowest levels since 1950, even as vehicle miles traveled increased. Highway fatalities have been falling for the past four years, and in 2009 even motorcycle fatalities decreased for the first time in 11 years. At 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009, fatalities per VMT fell to another all-time low. Why? It could be the market-fueled arms race to stuff ever more standard safety equipment into cars, or incessant pressure on OEMs from the IIHS (and its ilk)… or, if you’re Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, you might think that
the weak economy was a contributing factor as many Americans chose not to go out to bars and restaurants after work or on the weekend.
Yes, the man tasked with keeping our highway safe believes that his ongoing success is the product of Americans moping around the house because of a down economy. Even though VMT actually increased by .2 percent over 2008. In other words, despite “talking about safety more than anyone in Washington,” Ray LaHood is both clueless about the data, and convinced that a weak economy helps his crusade. Which makes you wonder what the man means when he says
While we’ve come a long way, we have a long distance yet to travel.