Before I tell you anything else, just slow down for a second and think about that. That number of people is hard to connect with emotionally since it represents a degree of tragic loss that is probably beyond a human being's capacity to feel. Indeed, it is probably a blessing that we cannot feel the collective pain of so many broken families and smashed dreams.
Much of the news coverage has focused on how this figure is an improvement relative to recent years. In this LA Times story covering the news release we see a lot of comparisons to previous years. We hear that the number and rate of deaths have fallen relative to 2009, and that the number of fatalities is the lowest since 1949. We see this chart:
NHTSA data also show a decline in the death rate since 1994. The rate fell in every year except two between 1994 and 2010. In 1994 it was 1.73 per 100 million VMT and, as mentioned earlier, in 2010 it was 1.09 per 100 million VMT.
Further, the fact that these 2010 data are estimates shouldn't give us too much pause about their accuracy. When the estimates were released for 2009, the total deaths number they gave was only off by 155 when compared to their final count.
Still, all of this coverage, despite the good news about improvement even in the face of increasing VMT left me with a bad taste in my mouth. As Secretary LaHood said in the release: "[T]oo many of our friends and neighbors are killed in preventable roadway tragedies every day".
We need to redouble our efforts to reduce the death toll of our transportation system. To do anything less would be a betrayal of those who have fallen, those we will lose every single day of 2011, and the hundreds of thousands of people who will die in the decades to come so that we can move around in motor vehicles.