Traffic deaths drop to lowest levels since 1950

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David McNew/Getty Images

Traffic fills the 110 freeway during rush hour, May 7, 2001, in downtown Los Angeles, CA.

U.S. traffic deaths have fallen to their lowest level in six decades. California’s doing slightly better than the national average.

The last time U.S. traffic fatalities were this low, Harry Truman was president. Nationwide, fatalities declined 9.7 percent over last year. In California, traffic deaths dropped a full 10 percent.

The Department of Transportation credits more seat belt use and widespread campaigns against drunk driving. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the numbers significant. But he said technology presents a new challenge.

"Everybody in America has a cell phone," he said. "Everybody has used it while driving. Everybody who’s done that knows it’s not safe because you don’t have both hands on the wheel."

LaHood says a lot depends on choices made by individual drivers. "The way to drive safely is not drink and drive, buckle up, put your cellphone in the glove compartment."

He says when people get in a car, "they want it to be the safest car possible mechanically, but they have a personal responsibility and that’s something we need to emphasize."

California slightly lagged behind the rest of the nation in reducing the number of alcohol related deaths. Last year, nearly 34,000 people died on our nation’s highways.

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