NHTSA: Trend of Lower Traffic Fatalities Continued Last Year

The latest federal statistics on traffic-related deaths showed several conclusions that prove to be good news for motorists, the most major being that highway deaths in 2011 fell to their lowest level in more than six decades.

Last year’s 1.9 percent drop in roadway fatalities is part of a “historic downward trend in recent years” that includes a 26 percent decrease in overall traffic deaths since 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The findings were pulled from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which NHTSA announced this week had been updated with recent data.

According to the NHTSA, the FARS system showed a number of encouraging signs in roadway safety, including a drop of 2.5 percent in drunk-driving-related fatalities in 2011 compared with 2010 and the fact that 36 states saw decreases in overall traffic deaths.

“As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving and driver distraction,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Distracted-related crashes yielded a mixed bag of results. The NHTSA reported a 7 percent drop in injuries from distraction-related crashes between 2010 and 2011. However, the number of people killed in distraction-related crashes increased 1.9 percent, although the NHTSA said that “this increase can be attributed in part to increased awareness and reporting” as government agencies have highlighted distracted driving as a public safety hazard in recent years.

This year, the NHTSA has published several studies emphasizing a long-term drop in roadway injuries and deaths. A report released in June from the agency showed that safer vehicle designs had contributed to a broad drop in the chance of crashing or dying in a crash. Among the findings was that the instances of being involved and dying in rollovers had dropped and been a major contributor to the overall decrease.

More recently, the NHTSA highlighted the positive impact of electronic stability control (ESC), a technology that helps a driver steer and keep a vehicle level in unstable conditions; rollovers are a type of crash specifically addressed by ESC systems.

The recent NHTSA findings could be the start of a scenario that has auto insurance implications; falling fatality and crash numbers underlay the hypothesis in research firm Celent’s “The End of Auto Insurance: What Happens When There Are (Almost) No Accidents.”

Under the scenario, “insurers see a large reduction in their revenue” that leads to drops in premium rates in a more competitive marketplace.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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