In 2011, 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. — a staggering sum — but the lowest total since 1949, according to a recently published National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report. The decline marked a 1.9 percent decrease in the number of fatalities in 2010 and, notably, a 26 percent decrease since 2005.
In Maryland, motor vehicle fatalities saw a similar decline last year, with the number of motor vehicle deaths falling from 496 in 2010 to 485 in 2011 — a 2.2 percent decrease.
The news was not all good, however. Nationally, the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes increased 3 percent in 2011 to 4,432 deaths. And the number of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes rose 8.7 percent to 677.
Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, linked the increase in the number of bicyclists and pedestrian fatalities to an increase in the number of bicyclists and pedestrians. "Our culture is beginning to move away from driving and toward healthier and greener modes of transportations," Adkins said in the Washington Post. "We need to be able to accommodate all these forms of transportation safely."
The number of motorcyclist fatalities also jumped 2.1 percent to 4,612.
And while the number of passenger vehicle and light truck deaths fell significantly, 4.1 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively, from 2010 to 2011 — accounting for the overall decline — the number of fatalities among occupants in large trucks rose 20 percent to 685 deaths. Adkins said the increase in the number of large truck fatalities may be linked to an improving economy, but more study is needed.
Nationally, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities declined by 2.5 percent in 2011, accounting for 31 percent of overall fatalities. In Maryland, alcohol-impaired driving accounted for 33 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents. Fatalities in distraction-affected crashes increased by 1.9 percent (3,267 fatalities in 2010 to 3,331 fatalities in 2011), according to the report.
"In the past several decades, we've seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive, and we're confident that NHTSA's 5-Star Safety Ratings Program and nationwide collaborations like ‘Click It or Ticket' and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over' have played a key role in making our roads safer," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in a statement. "Even as we celebrate the progress we've made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year."