Putting the brakes on highway deaths

There are multiple factors that have helped U.S. highway fatalities drop to their lowest level in 60 years: safer vehicles, more widespread use of seat belts, stricter drunk-driving laws and tougher enforcement of those laws.

But reduced driving because of the economy doesn’t appear to be among those factors. Even with the tough economy, total miles driven by Americans in 2009 rose slightly over the 2008 figure, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Total highway fatalities in this country were 33,808 in 2009 — the lowest total number since 1950, despite the fact that the number of miles driven has increased steadily over those 60 years.

Colorado saw its highway deaths drop substantially, from 548 in 2008 to 465 in 2009, according to federal statistics.

All of this is welcome news for U.S. citizens who spend so much of our time on the roads and highways of this country. But it’s little consolation to those who have lost loved ones in traffic wrecks, and there have been too many of them in Mesa County recently.

Still, law enforcement agencies deserve credit for the tough enforcement of drunk-driving laws over the past decade and more, measures that have helped reduce the number of fatalities.

We do, however, have questions about the use of sobriety checkpoints. Eleven states have prohibited such checkpoints because of questions about their constitutionality, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled them legal. And, while some studies show they are an effective means of reducing drunk driving, others suggest that the officers involved could be better utilized to patrol roadways looking for drunken drivers.

That issue aside, there is much reason to celebrate the fact that, even with people driving faster on interstate highways, our highways are as safe as they have ever been.


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