In this time of ever more depressing stories and statistics, there is a bit of good news: Fewer Americans are dying on U.S. highways.
According to a recently released survey from the Governors Highway Safety Association, highway fatalities dropped significantly in 2008. The survey said that 40 states plus the District of Columbia had fewer highway deaths, while four states indicated an increase (six states didn't have statistics available in time for the survey).
The states that showed the highest percentage decline in traffic fatalities for 2008 include: Massachusetts, 28.5; Washington, D.C., 27.7; Hawaii, 22.5; Nebraska, 18.8; and Montana, 17.4.
Michigan showed a decline of 7.7 percent.
The four states that saw an increase are: Vermont, 10.6; Wyoming, 6.7; New Hampshire, 6.2; and Delaware, 3.
The highway safety group believes there are a number of reasons for the reduction in fatalities, including the fact that motorists seem to be driving less in response to higher gas prices.
Seventeen states in the survey showed a drop in the number of Vehicle Miles Traveled in 2008 and, in some cases, the fatality percentage decline was more than the decline in miles traveled. In most cases the decline was double, triple or even quadruple the decline in miles.
Other factors in the decline included the increased use of seat belts, stronger traffic laws and an increase in the enforcement of those laws.
According to GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha, it appears that many motorists are driving slower to try to increase gas mileage.
"The speed of the average Oregon driver was down more than 1 mph in 2008," Harsha said. "This may not sound like a lot, but reducing driver speeds means that more people are surviving crashes. Drivers may not slow down to save a life, but clearly they will slow down to save a buck."
The survey mirrors a December 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation that noted that traffic deaths for the first 10 months of 2008 had dropped 10 percent.
Detroit News columnist Tom Greenwood wants to hear from commuters about life in the fast -- or slow -- lane behind the wheel, questions, challenges, experiences and interesting people or places along the way. You can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org, (313) 222-2023 or by writing to The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226.
Average fuel prices
Tuesday in Metro Detroit:
Source: AAA Michigan