Washington, D.C. – Highway deaths in the U.S. in 2010 dropped to their lowest levels since 1949, even as Americans drove more miles than in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). There were 32,885 people killed on U.S. roads in 2010.

“While we have more work to do to continue to protect American motorists, these numbers show we’re making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation’s roadways,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Thanks to the tireless work of our safety agencies and partner organizations over the past few decades to save lives and reduce injuries, we’re saving lives, reducing injuries, and building the foundation for what we hope will be even greater success in the future.”

The year also marked the lowest-ever fatality rate ever recorded, with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled in 2010, down from 1.15 in 2009.

Fatalities declined in most categories in 2010, including for occupants of passenger cars and light trucks, SUVs, minivans and pickups, but rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders, and those in large trucks. Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped 4.9 per cent in 2010, with 10,228 people killed, compared to 10,759 in 2009.

NHTSA also announced a new category of fatalities related to distracted driving, called distraction-affected crashes. Introduced for 2010 as part of a broader effort by the agency to refine its data collection, the new measure is designed to focus more narrowly on crashes in which a driver was most likely to have been distracted. While the analysis previously recorded a broad range of potential distractions, such as careless driving or cellphone use, the new measure focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement, such as dialling a cellphone, texting, or distraction by an outside person or event. Using the new methodology, NHTSA said that an estimated 3,092 fatalities in 2010 were the result of distraction-affected crashes.

Connect with Autos.ca