Traffic deaths in the United States last year dropped to the lowest level since 1994, and deaths per 100 million miles traveled are the lowest on record, the government said Thursday.
In 2007 there were 41,059 highway fatalities overall, which are 1,649 fewer deaths than the previous year. The traffic fatality rate dropped to 1.37 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
"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 we're not stopping here. The quest is not over until that bottom-line number is zero."
Peters said 2.49 million people were injured last year in traffic crashes, 84,000 fewer than the year before and the lowest total since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began compiling injury data in 1988.
Alcohol-related traffic deaths those involving a driver or motorcyclist with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher fell by 3.7 percent to 12,998.
Amid the encouraging news for drivers, a troubling trend continues: Motorcycle fatalities rose for the 10th straight year, to 5,154, the highest total since NHTSA began collecting fatality crash data in 1975.
"Motorcyclist fatalities now account for an alarming 13 percent of total traffic fatalities," said Christopher Murphy, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association. He attributes the rising deaths of motorcyclists to "a patchwork of helmet laws, an explosion in motorcycle ownership, inconsistent and inadequate licensing requirements and lack of adequate safety education funding."
California recorded the largest decline in highway deaths: It had 266 fewer fatalities than in 2006. South Dakota and Vermont had 24 percent declines, the largest percentage reductions.
Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, attributes his state's drop in highway deaths to stepped-up enforcement efforts, drunken-driving crackdowns and more intense probation for DUI offenders. "What we're seeing is a significant drop in alcohol-related deaths," he said.
Cochran said motorcycle deaths are especially bad among young men because of speeding or aggressive driving and middle-aged men riding bikes three to four times heavier and more powerful than those they rode as youths.
The NHTSA collects crash statistics annually from the states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
USA Today reported in June, based on its independent reporting, that highway fatalities in the first half of this year had fallen in 35 of 37 states that provided preliminary statistics.