Record Low Number of Traffic Accidents Nationwide Last Year. But Why?

New York taxis and cars

Despite sensationalistic news headlines to the contrary, it seems that in 2010, traffic fatalities were the lowest they’ve been in decades. In fact, as explained in this blog post, the last time the numbers this low was in the 1940s:

Fewer people died on America’s roads than at any time in the past sixty-one years, according to an analysis of 2010 accident data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)…Crash fatalities dropped 2.9 percent last year to 32,885, a figure only bested by 1949’s death toll of 30,246. Sixty-one years ago, there were fewer cars and fewer roads, so the number of vehicle miles traveled that year were one-seventh of what they are today. Last year’s fatality rate dropped 4.3 percent to an all-time low of 1.1 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

Surprisingly, accidents involving blood alcohol levels in excess of .08 were down as well, by nearly 4.9 percent, with these types of crashes accounting for 1/3 of fatal accidents–and the majority of those accidents were single-car collisions in which only the driver was killed.

When these figures were announced, many tried to take credit for the declining number of accidents, including manufacturers of red light cameras. However, statistics showed that, as we’ve discussed in the past, the red light cameras had little to do with it:

The evidence shows no correlation between the presence of automated ticketing and reduced collisions. In Alaska, a referendum and appellate court decision struck down the use of photo radar, but fatalities dropped 13 percent there last year. Minnesota’s high court eliminated red light cameras and forced Redflex Traffic Systems to refund every illegally issued citation. Accidents dropped 2.4 percent in the state. Nebraska courts rejected cameras and deadly accidents were down 15 percent.

Instead, experts suggest that declining numbers were more likely caused by a combination of economic factors, technological advances, and more cautious and intelligent driving my motor vehicle operators.

Regardless of the reasons for the decline, one thing is certain: a reduction in the number of traffic fatalities is a positive trend and one that we hope will continue. In a perfect world, there would never be deaths from motor vehicle accidents; but since we don’t live in a utopia, a reduction in the number of accidents is the best we can hope for. And a reduction to 1940s levels is certainly a good start.

Howard Ankin of Ankin Law ( handles workers’ compensationandpersonal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 346-8780 and