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Survey finds decrease in auto fatalities


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POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

WASHINGTON » Automobile fatalities declined in 40 states in 2008, according to a survey of state highway safety agencies, an early sign that traffic deaths could dip to their lowest levels in four decades.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety departments, said yesterday that vehicle deaths dropped in 40 states and the District of Columbia out of 44 states surveyed. The average decline was 10.7 percent, the safety group said.

In Hawaii, automobile fatalities fell 22.5 percent last year from 2007.

“;Clearly, the high gas prices in the first part of the year and the difficult economy in the second half caused people to drive less, thus reducing fatalities. However, there's more occurring here than just economic factors,”; said Barbara Harsha, the organization's executive director.

Harsha said the declines could also be attributed to seat belt use reaching a record high of 83 percent in 2008 and increased enforcement of traffic laws. Many states also reported drivers reducing their speed to boost their fuel efficiency, she said.

Among large states, Florida's highway fatalities dropped 6.8 percent, Illinois' fell by 16 percent, Ohio's declined by 4 percent and Michigan's were down by 7.7 percent. Georgia saw decreases of 12 percent, and New Jersey's fatalities dropped 18 percent, according to the survey.

Besides Hawaii, Alaska, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia all saw declines of 20 percent or more.

Fatalities increased in Vermont, Wyoming, Delaware and New Hampshire. Several large states, including California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, did not participate in the survey.

The safety association cautioned that the surveys, which were conducted during the week of Jan. 26, were estimates and that the final figures could vary.