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ODOT Reports 2009 Highway Deaths Hit 60-Year Low
Troy E. Costales
ODOT Safety Division Administrator
(503) 986-4192
Shelley Snow
ODOT Public Affairs
(503) 881-5362

For 2009, preliminary numbers show that 381 people lost their lives on Oregon roads. That’s a 9 percent decline from 2008 and the lowest number of fatalities since the late 1940s. Officials noted that one death is too many, but it is still heartening news for people whose job it is to reduce and prevent vehicle-related injuries and fatalities.
“The efforts of safety advocates all over the state are paying off,” said Matthew Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Oregonians are listening and taking action.”
Even though numbers won’t be finalized until later this spring, Safety Division Administrator Troy E. Costales said there are many reasons there were fewer fatalities in 2009. One of the biggest ones is that Oregonians continue to buckle up.
“Our observed safety belt use is at 96 percent, and that’s among the top three in the country,” Costales said. “Consistent safety belt use is the single most effective way to protect people in a vehicle crash.”
Other reasons for the dramatic reduction include:
1. Enforcement by agencies using federal funds to focus efforts on seat belts, child safety seats, DUII, speeding and other traffic laws;
2. Road improvements such as the extension of rumble strips, addition of cable barriers, new left turn lanes and other safety-related engineering upgrades;
3. Maintenance efforts including striping, debris removal and guardrail repair;
4. More state troopers on Oregon’s highways;
5. New equipment, such as red light cameras, mobile data terminals, and photo radar;
6. Continuing education and restrictions for teen drivers; and
7. Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists all being more aware of each other using the roads.
“Another key element is our involved citizenry,” said Costales. “We have active volunteers on advisory committees, policy teams and technical panels that help us make good decisions.”
Analysts compare fatalities to “vehicle miles traveled” to assess safety, and Oregon’s rate is projected to be 1.08, based on miles driven in the state in 2009 (1.08 lives lost per 100 million miles traveled). This preliminary rate is the lowest rate in Oregon motor vehicle history (previously the lowest rate was 1.19, in 1999).
“In 1949, the fatality rate was 6.38. If nothing had changed since then, Oregon would have experienced 2,217 fatalities last year alone,” Costales said. The worst years for highway deaths were 1972: 737 fatalities; 1978: 722 fatalities; and 1969: 714.
More information about ODOT's safety efforts is available at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TS.