Maine Officials See Reductions in Traffic Fatalities in 2011

Maine authorities say highway deaths are down for the fourth straight year, continuing the safest period on the state’s roadways in more than a half-century.

The state Bureau of Highway Safety reports that 61 people have died so far in 2011, compared with 88 at the same point in 2010.

The decrease is in keeping with a nationwide decline in fatalities in recent years.

Crash fatalities in the U.S., 2000-2009About 33,800 people died in vehicle crashes in 2009, down 9.7 percent from the roughly 37,500 killed the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Fatalities in 2009 were at their lowest level since 1950, despite a 0.2 percent increase from the previous year in the number of vehicle miles traveled, NHTSA reported.

Lauren Stewart, Maine’s highway safety director, attributed her state’s decline to people driving less because of the poor economy and high gas prices. She also said the drop may be due in part to ongoing funding of safety efforts, including for expanded use of seat belts.

Maine is one of more than 30 states with primary seat belt laws, which let authorities stop and cite a driver for not being buckled up and allow motorists to be ticketed for allowing minor passengers to go unrestrained.

NHTSA officials say the restraining devices save more lives—including 13,000 in 2008 alone—than any other safety item in vehicles and reduce the risk of serious crash injury by half.

And seat belts can save money as well as lives. Insurance companies offer discounts for safety features including automatic seat belts, making it easier to obtain the type of inexpensive car insurance Maine residents are looking for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, as a result of stepped-up state laws and education, seat belt use across the U.S. rose from 11 percent in 1981 to nearly 85 percent last year.


About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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