In 2008, the number of traffic fatalities reached its lowest level since 1961, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States declined 9.7 percent, from 41,259 in 2007 to 37,261 in 2008. Truck-involved crash fatalities in 2008 declined 12 percent. This encouraging trend should act as a catalyst for highway users to focus on greater improvements. Safety is the responsibility of all motorists sharing our nation's roads.
Faced with high fuel prices and a faltering economy, Americans changed their driving habits last year, driving less and slowing down to conserve fuel. This helped improve safety conditions because speeding and driving too fast for conditions top the list of unsafe driving behaviors. Improvements in highway safety also correlate with promoting best practices and increasing drivers' awareness.
ATA encouraged changes to regulations that reduced the number of hours a truck driver can work in a day. Under these Hours of Service (HOS) rules for the last five years, the trucking industry's safety performance dramatically improved. Large truck crash, injury and fatality rates have reached their lowest point since the U.S. Department of Transportation began recording these statistics.
In June, we announced an 18-point highway safety agenda, created by ATA's Safety Task Force. This progressive approach to highway safety focuses largely on the driver, targeting ways to improve performance and behavior, but also looks to create safer vehicles and improve motor carrier performance.
Better education is key. ATA encourages uniform commercial driver's license (CDL) standards and graduated licensing for CDL drivers. On the passenger vehicle side, ATA also supports graduated licensing in all states for non-commercial drivers aged 16 to 19. Studies show a significantly higher risk of accidents among drivers 18 and 19 years old.
Recently, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study attributing 56 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes to aggressive driving. ATA strongly encourages a comprehensive focus on targeting aggressive drivers of passenger vehicles and trucks. We recommend curbing these aggressive behaviors by instituting a national speed limit of 65 mph and speed governing of all class 7 and 8 trucks at 65 mph or below.
Improving driver performance by eliminating distractions, including those caused by text messaging, will also greatly improve the safety of all motorists. Since October 2008, ATA has advocated for policies that would minimize or eliminate driver distraction caused by using electronic devices while operating any type of motor vehicle. On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, ATA will represent the trucking industry at the Distracted Driving Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
ATA's safety agenda also supports exploring incentives and penalties that will motivate states to pass primary safety belt laws. Data suggest the trucking industry's focus on encouraging safety belt use is working; figures from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance's Roadcheck 2009 indicate that safety belt usage among commercial vehicle drivers rose 22 percent over last year. ATA commends the states of Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin for passing primary seatbelt enforcement laws this year.
In addition, ATA supports increased national standards for commercial driver's licenses, making testing uniform across the nation; creating a national clearinghouse for positive alcohol and drug test results, providing trucking companies access to a driver's history of failed tests and test refusals; and improved crash worthiness standards for newly manufactured class 7 and 8 trucks.
These policies and the accelerated deployment of advanced safety systems for commercial vehicles will help improve trucking safety. Fleet owners cite high costs as the primary impediment to adoption of technologies such as brake wear monitoring systems, stability control and roll stability systems, lane departure warning systems with blind spot detection, and collision warning systems with adaptive cruise control. Providing tax incentives to make such systems more affordable will help increase their use and reduce crashes, injuries and deaths. Congress is considering legislation to provide these incentives, and ATA encourages Congress to increase the caps on these tax credits.
As an industry, we'll continue pushing for continued improvement in highway safety, but regulations can only go so far. We need a commitment from all motorists.