The number of people who died on Vermont highways last year dropped 22 percent last year, to 55, the lowest number since 1944, officials said this week.
The statistics released by Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and other officials follow a national trend of continually declining traffic fatalities and injuries. Nationally, the number of deaths and injuries on the nation’s highways in 2010 was the lowest since 1949. The national 2011 numbers haven’t been released yet.
Flynn credited a combination of factors in the decrease, including the increased use of seat belts, a continued emphasis on keeping impaired drivers off the roads, public safety campaigns, safer cars and safer highways.
“When you look at these numbers, you think, ‘Wow, we’re making a difference out there,’ but on the other hand, I look at it and say, ‘Wow, 55 people died in this state last year because of motor vehicle accidents. What can we do better?'” Flynn said.
Officials are planning more public safety campaigns to encourage people to drive safely.
“We want to have an advertising campaign so when people see one of our ads on television or hear them on the radio or see them in print that that’s the conversation the next day at the water cooler,” Flynn said. “The group that we need to approach and the group that we need to get the message is from the 15-year-olds up to the 30-year-olds.”
Of the 55 fatalities, 24 involved drivers with alcohol or the active ingredient in marijuana in their systems, an increase of 11 percent over 2010. And 19 of the people who died were either not wearing seatbelts or, for the eight motorcycle fatalities, not wearing approved helmets.
Almost a quarter of the 2011 fatalities, 11, happened on Sundays.
In 1921, the first year Vermont reported traffic fatalities, 27 people died on the roads. The highest number of traffic fatalities reported in Vermont was in 1979 with 161 fatalities.
Over the last five years, the highest number of fatalities was in 2006, when 87 people died.
In 1944, 28 people died on Vermont roadways.
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