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By Garrett Handy

Last month, AAA released a study titled, Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age: United States, 1995-2010. I was surprised to learn from motor vehicle crash death statistics that deaths are on the decline. In 2008, nationwide annual motor vehicle deaths fell to its lowest level since 1961. The study points out that from 1995 to 2007, annual motor vehicle deaths were consistent at about 42,500. However, beginning in 2008, we started to see a sharp decline in the number of deaths. Here's some data regarding deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents:

2007 - 41,259 deaths

2008 - 37,261 deaths

2009 - 33,883 deaths

2010 - 32,885 deaths

2011 - 32,310 deaths

The AAA report then correlates the data to different age groups. Here's a quote from the summary:

"Rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths decreased over the study period for all driver age groups, and this was the case whether examined in relation to the total population, or number of miles driven. While drivers of all ages experienced decreases in rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths over the study period, decreases in population-based and driver-based rates were largest for teenage drivers; decreases in mileage-based rates of crash involvement, injury, and death were largest for drivers aged 75-84."

Another interesting finding: "In relation to their share of the driving population, fewer people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 85 and older than drivers of any other age." On that topic, I heard an interesting piece on NPR this morning regarding older drivers. The NPR article cites some reasons older drivers are safer: they use seatbelts more, they driver slower, and they're less likely to drink and drive.

AAA does not provide any reasons for the drop in motor vehicle deaths. However, I think we must assume that advances in technology and vehicle safety have made an impact. For example, air bags and vehicle stability control systems have saved lives. Further, many vehicles now have "hands-free" features. Finally, public safety awareness campaigns must be working . . . maybe people are finally getting the message to buckle up, not drive while drowsy or drunk, etc.

In spite of advances in safety technology and awareness, I'm still surprised we're seeing such a dramatic drop in motor vehicle deaths. With the advent of smartphones, we're increasingly connected - we're always on-line and it seems that many drivers, including our younger drivers, have a hard time putting the phone down and paying attention. To me, drivers seem more distracted than ever. I think many younger drivers feel compelled to answer that last text message, use the navigation system, or find music among thousands of songs on their iPods.

Regardless, the good news is that we're seeing fewer and fewer deaths on our streets and highways. Here in Utah, we've had several fatal car accidents in the last month. In Utah, winter driving conditions are upon us and all drivers must continue to drive defensively and exercise caution out on the roads. Even though the numbers are declining there's more we can do to limit the number of deaths each year due to car accidents.

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