There is a silver lining to be found in the slumping economy and soaring price of gasoline: Less driving meant a reduction in deadly car crashes.
Highway fatalities in Arizona dropped 14 percent in 2008 compared with the year before, according to a survey released Thursday by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
That decline was better than the average - minus-10.7 percent - seen in the 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, that provided data to the GHSA. Only four states saw an increase in the number of deaths.
"Clearly, the high gas prices in the first part of the year and the difficult economy in the second half caused people to drive less, thus reducing fatalities," GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said in the news release. "However, there's more occurring here than just economic factors."
The overall drop in fatalities, noted the GHSA, was greater than the year-to-year comparison in vehicle miles traveled, which were down 2.9 percent. Some states saw fatalities decrease at a rate four times greater than their reduction in driving.
Arizona did not report its vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
The GHSA's study echoes the recent findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In December, that federal agency announced that the number of people killed in traffic crashes in 2008 was expected to reach a record low, with early projections of highway traffic deaths in the first 10 months of this year showing a drop of nearly 10 percent.
Harsha said other factors working in favor of greater safety include gains in seat belt use, stronger state laws and increased enforcement of these laws.
Another factor were drivers who reduced their speeds to improve fuel efficiency. For example, the speed of the average Oregon driver was down more than 1 mph in 2008.
"This may not sound like a lot, but reducing driver speeds means that more people are surviving crashes," Harsha said. "Drivers may not slow down to save a life, but clearly they will slow down to save a buck."
Harsha added that she expects more states to use the economic argument to urge drivers to slow down.
The GHSA survey was conducted during the week of Jan.26. States were asked for their percent increase/decrease in fatalities and VMT.
Fatality data is preliminary and VMT is based on estimates. Fatality estimates generally were based on data from the entire year, while VMT estimates were based on 11 months of data.