The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA – pronounced nit’ suh) announced the preliminary 2008 statistics for Fatal Crashes in the United States (report, pdf). According to projections, traffic fatalities fell to 37,313, down from 41,059 in 2007. That is excellent news!
Similarly the fatality rate fell to 1.28 from 1.36. This rate is measured in fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, and as I’m sure you’re aware from the news media (and my humble services here) vehicle miles traveled also fell last year.
The reduction in fatalities is being reported as correlated with increased seat belt use across the nation. Everyone is careful to not actually state that seat belt use is fixing the problem, but in this case I’m willing to give them a pass for using statistics to lie to you. It is highly probable that increased seat belt use is a causal factor1 in the reduction of fatal crashes but it is a difficult supposition to prove. Other factors that may be causing fatalities to drop is reduced response time for medial personnel2, increased use of graduated drivers licenses for teens and/or safer vehicles.
1: See “Correlation does not imply causation”
2: See Golden Hour