Traffic fatalities continue to decline


The number of traffic fatalities on California highways continues to decrease, mirroring a national trend attributed in part to stepped-up traffic enforcement, anti-drunk driving campaigns and even the lackluster economy, officials say.

Nationwide, the number of traffic fatalities projected for 2009 is expected to reach its lowest level since 2005, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation report released Thursday. The number of traffic fatalities in 2009 is estimated at nearly 34,000, a drop of 8.9% from the previous year. The actual 2009 figures will be released later this year.

California is expected to see a significant drop in traffic deaths as well, said Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety. The state reported 3,434 traffic fatalities in 2008, a 14% decrease from 2007, according to a department report. Nearly a third of the fatalities were alcohol-related.

The downturn in the economy has led to less driving, which means fewer accidents, Cochran said. “When you have fewer dollars, you’re buying fewer cars, you’re driving fewer places,” he said.

Nationwide, motorists drove 11.7 billion fewer miles in the first three months of 2009 compared with the first three months of 2008, a nearly 2% decrease, according to the national study.

Also, since 2007 California has stepped up efforts to curb driving under the influence, resulting in fewer alcohol-involved fatalities, Cochran said.

The state’s “Report Drunk Drivers -- Call 911” campaign has been a success, with more people reporting possible drunk drivers, he said.

The state has also increased its DUI checkpoints over the last four years, he said.

Modern cars are also built with safety in mind, Cochran said. “Each little part of the design and engineering of cars has been aimed toward the survivability of crashes,” he said.

The department is still evaluating how the state ban on texting while driving, and on talking on a cellphone without using a hands-free device, will affect the number of traffic fatalities.