Fewer highway fatalities good news for auto insurance customers

Auto insurance customers got some potentially good news recently in the form of U.S. government statistics showing that nationwide highway fatalities have continued to fall for several years.

Auto insurance customers got some potentially good news recently in the form of U.S. government statistics showing that nationwide highway fatalities have continued to fall for several years.

According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, overall traffic fatalities hit their lowest level since 1961 last year and continued to decrease in the first quarter of 2009. As the number of major auto accidents declines, consumers tend to benefit in the form of lower auto insurance rates.

The latest figures show that there were 37,261 highway fatalities in 2008, a decrease of 9.7 percent from 2007. The fatality rate was 1.27 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled last year, which is 7 percent lower than it was the year before.

For the first quarter of 2009, the number of fatalities was 9 percent lower than during the same time period of 2008, marking the 12th quarterly decline.

Part of the reason for the safer highways may simply be that Americans are driving less than they have in years. The Transportation Department noted that people drove 11.7 billion miles less in the first quarter of 2009 than in the first three months of 2008.

This trend of less driving may be due in part to the economy, which has near-record numbers of Americans out of work, as well as lingering effects from last year's gasoline prices, which soared to above $4 per gallon at one point and which remain higher than they were earlier this decade.

The Transportation Department suggested that increased seat belt use, improved roads, safer vehicles and tougher enforcement against impaired drivers were also playing a role in the lower fatality rates.

One of the many states to see improved highway fatality rates was Massachusetts, where a Boston Globe report quoted public safety spokesman Terrel Harris as saying that statewide driver education efforts had played a significant role in the situation. Another factor he cited was the increasingly widespread use of road sobriety checkpoints.

Whatever the reason for the safer highways, LaHood reported that fatalities were down in most categories. Passenger car occupant fatalities were down for the sixth consecutive year, which was said to be the lowest level since the DOT began keeping such records. Alcohol-related fatalities were also said to be down 9 percent from 2007 levels, while fatalities involving light trucks were also down last year.

Along with driving safely, another important way for drivers to avoid accidents and unwanted encounters with their auto insurance companies is to keep up on basic maintenance requirements. For example, Advance Auto Parts recently reminded consumers that summer driving season can be tough on vehicles because of higher temperatures.

For example, drivers are advised to regularly check their tire pressure, since this affects both safety and fuel economy. Other tips include regularly changing air filters, keeping vehicles in alignment and ensuring that headlights, including high beams, are working properly.

A separate report from CNBC warns drivers of other commonly missed safety issues. These include missing air bags, inadequate or compromised bumpers, damaged brake lines, underinflated tires and and damaged steering or suspension systems.

"I would recommend a complete underbody inspection," You want to be sure that the winter snow and ice have not caused any damage," Marcus Simmons of the nonprofit group Motown Automotive Professionals told the news network.

By following sound vehicle and driving safety procedures, drivers can give themselves and their families peace of mind while also likely holding down their car insurance rates.

Learn how easy and convenient shopping for auto insurance can be. Get your free auto insurance quotes today!

Posted: July 10, 2009

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