Traffic deaths decline in Texas

Those of you looking for silver linings in the economic slowdown, here’s one.

In 2009, Texas saw a 12.1 percent decrease in the rate of traffic deaths, compared with a 9.7 percent drop nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of traffic deaths in the United States in 2009 was the lowest since 1950 – when there were a fifth as many cars on the road.

The sharp decrease is explained by a combination of factors – the sluggish economy (fewer jobs, less discretionary driving), an increase in seat belt use, safer roads and vehicles, and more enforcement and awareness programs, both on the state and national levels.

But experts agree that a decrease in fatal crashes involving young drivers is also key.

“The traffic safety problem in this country and in this state is far too significant to expect some solution from any one thing,” said Bernie Fette, a research specialist at the Texas Transportation Institute, part of the Texas A&M University System.

Over the years, the rate of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 – historically, the most reckless age group – has steadily declined. Chandra Bhat, a transportation engineering professor at the University of Texas, said young drivers account for 6.5 percent of the driving population but are responsible for about 13 percent of fatal crashes.

“Clearly, young drivers contribute more than their share to accidents. That is not a question at all and has been known for a long time,” Bhat said. “The [overall fatality] decline is because of a decline among incidents involving young drivers.”

The full report is here. There’s a lot of reasons for the decline in fatalities, with an overall change in the culture that makes certain kinds of risky behavior such as drinking while driving no longer socially acceptable.

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2 Responses to Traffic deaths decline in Texas

  1. David Reich says:

    Charles, it’s welcome news that traffic deaths have declined. While technology like seat belts, airbags and better-built cars has helped, it also poses a new safety risk. Cellphones and texting — especially among young people — has become what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is calling a national epidemic, causing thousands of highway fatalities every year.

    Young people are being encouraged to help spread the word to their peers. Off the Kuff readers might want to tell teens they know about a nationwide distracted driving PSA contest. Win $1,000 scholarship and a trip to NY to see the PSA idea made into a professionally-produced spot that will air nationwide next spring. Details are at It’s sponsored by the National Road Safety Foundation and National Organizations for Youth Safety, with support of Sec. LaHood.

  2. If texting and cell phone use is so great a danger, why have the number of traffic injuries – not just deaths – declined dramatically over the period when texting and smart phone use went from zero to ubiquitous? There’s a lot of demagoguery about so-called “distracted driving” that’s simply not borne out by the facts on the ground. What’s more, those touting the problem tend to adopt a double standard when it comes to other types of distractions.

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