According to a report released by the Department of Transportation, the number of fatalities on U.S. roadways fell 3.9% in 2007, reaching the lowest total in more than a decade and the lowest fatality rate on record.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced the overall number of traffic fatalities fell to 41,059, the lowest number since 1994. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles was 1.37, the smallest figure ever recorded.

In addition, the 2.49 million people injured in highway crashes last year is the lowest seen since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting injury data in 1988, Peters added.

“Thanks to safer vehicles, aggressive law enforcement and our efforts, countless families were spared the devastating news that a loved one was not coming home last year,” Peters said. “You can be sure that we’re not stopping here, the quest is not over until that bottom line number is zero.”

The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) said that some of the decline in fatalities may be attributed to trucks utilizing collision avoidance, lane departure warning, stability control and brake stroke monitoring systems, and other safety technologies. The trucking lobby is currently supporting a measure to give tax incentives to carriers that adopt these safety technologies.

“The statistics from this most recent study show that the efforts of law enforcement agencies to focus on the most likely causes of crashes, such as speeding and impaired driving, are making our highways safer,” said ATA president & CEO Bill Graves. “While we are pleased that overall fatalities have decreased, we still have room to improve safe driving habits of truck drivers and passenger vehicle drivers.”

According to the DOT data, fatalities dropped in 35 states, increased in 14 and stayed constant in one (North Dakota). The biggest reductions in auto deaths were in California (-266), Arizona (-227), Texas (-168), and Florida (-143). The biggest increases were in North Carolina (+121), Virginia (+65) and Wisconsin (+32).

805 motorists in what DOT classifies as large trucks were killed in 2006 and 802 in 2007, with an equal estimate of 23,000 injured in both years.

While fatalities decreased for motorists in passenger cars (down 7.8%), light trucks (down 2.7%) and large trucks (down 0.4%)--in addition to pedestrians (down 2.9%) and bicyclists (down 9.6%)--the number of motorcyclists killed on the road increased 6.6% from 2006 to 2007, now representing 13% of all fatalities.

In response, Peters announced the launch of new advertisements focusing on motorcycle safety and drunk driving awareness. DOT has kicked off its annual impaired driving enforcement crackdown, “Drunk Driving. Over the limit. Under Arrest,” which will run through Labor Day.

“As these new statistics show, we are making progress, but far too many of our friends, neighbors and family members are still getting killed or seriously injured,” Peters added.

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