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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a press release on Thursday, March 11, announcing that "the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, declining for the 15th consecutive quarter."

Once miles traveled are accounted for, this fatality rate could actually be the lowest level ever recorded, according to the release.

"This is exciting news, but there are still far too many people dying in traffic accidents," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Drivers need to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their focus on the road in order to stay safe."

The projected fatality data for 2009 places the highway death count at 33,963, a drop of 8.9 percent as compared to the 37,261 deaths reported in 2008. The fatality rate for 2009 declined to the lowest on record, to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) down from 1.25 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2008.

"This continuing decline in highway deaths is encouraging, but our work is far from over," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland. "We want to see those numbers drop further. We will not stop as long as there are still lives lost on our nation’s highways. We must continue our efforts to ensure seat belts are always used and stay focused on reducing distracted and impaired driving."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes the decline in 2009 to a combination of factors that include, high visibility campaigns like Click It or Ticket to increase seat belt use, and Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest which helps with the enforcement of state laws to prevent drunk driving and distracted driving. In addition, the decline is also the result of safer roads, safer vehicles and motorists driving less.

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