A US Transportation Department report shows that 31% of traffic deaths were linked to alcohol in 2010. The report also includes new measures for distracted driving incidents which accounted for about 9% of all highway fatalities in the US in 2010.
The report, which updates fatality figures released earlier in the year, confirmed earlier estimates that overall highway deaths fell in 2010 to the lowest level in six decades, although Americans drove more. The death toll from all vehicle crashes fell 2.9% to 32,885 people, or a fatality rate of 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has pursued a vigorous campaign to discourage drivers from texting, talking on phones or fiddling with entertainment devices, sometimes to the consternation of car makers and safety advocates who say drinking and other factors deserve more attention.
Alcohol remains a larger highway safety problem, though alcohol related fatalities fell 4.9% in 2010
compared to 2009 with 10,228 alcohol related highway deaths. Overall, highway deaths have been declining steadily since the early 1980s, coinciding with increasingly sophisticated safety technology in cars and light trucks, such as airbags and more recently electronic systems designed to prevent SUVs from rolling over. Changes in driver behaviour have helped too, as more motorists use seat belts, and fewer drive after drinking heavily. The latest count of alcohol related traffic deaths is down 41% from 2000, when 17,380 people died in crashes where alcohol was a contributing factor.
Another encouraging trend found in the latest figures: Fatalities among young drivers 16 to 20 years old have declined by 39% between 2006 and 2010, faster than the overall rate of decline in highway deaths.