It's not a magic number, but it's a good target.
And in 2010, Nebraska hit the target — shattered it, even.
Pending any Friday night fatalities, the state logged 185 traffic deaths last year.
That's the second-lowest yearly total on record, bettered only by the 166 fatalities recorded in 1944.
But the more telling number for traffic safety officials is the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. They use that number to get more of an apples-to-apples comparison from year to year.
For Nebraska, the rate last year was less than 1 death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The target date for reaching 1 death per 100 million miles was 2015.
The fact that the state hit its goal five years early “is pretty amazing,” said Fred Zwonechek, head of the state's Office of Highway Safety.
“You're obviously trying to work toward zero. Realistically, can we ever get there? Probably not. But we want to get as close as we can.”
Iowa's latest tally for 2010 was 385 traffic fatalities.
Scott Falb, a driver safety specialist with Iowa's Office of Driver Services, said he expected the final number to rise as smaller counties turn in their reports to the state.
Iowa's VMT figure for 2010 likely will be around 1.25, he said.
The death tally is up from last year's 371 fatalities, Falb said, but barring a huge end-of-year jump, Iowa should stay under 400 deaths for the second year in a row.
“I'm thinking we'll end up at 395 to 398 when all the numbers are in,” Falb said.
Nationally, traffic fatality numbers are dropping.
The modern-era peak occurred in 2005, when 43,510 people were killed on U.S. roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
By 2009, the annual toll had fallen to 33,808, and the total of nearly 15,000 through the first six months of 2010 was down 9.2 percent from the same period the previous year.
The national VMT, incidentally, is getting close to 1 death per 100 million miles traveled.
“Nebraska isn't alone doing what we're doing,” Zwonechek said.
Safer cars, better-designed roads, targeted law enforcement efforts and improvements in the Emergency Medical Services system have been very important in helping reduce fatalities, Zwonechek said.
“When it comes down to it,” he said, “it is the changes in driver behavior that have the potential to have the largest impacts.”
People need to obey speed limits and traffic laws, make sure everyone's buckled up, drive sober and put away their cell phones, he said.
And what was the VMT death rate in Nebraska's record low year of 1944?
Not as good as you might think.
Nebraska now has 2.2 million registered vehicles, compared with about 490,000 in the 1940s.
That means a lot more cars are traveling thousands and thousands more miles today than during World War II, when gasoline was rationed and no cars were even being built for civilian use.
So even though 1944's statewide traffic fatality number of 166 was lower than the 2010 total, it equates to a rate of about 8 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
As usual, seat-belt usage, motorcycle helmet usage and alcohol use were key factors in the 2010 fatality numbers, Falb and Zwonechek said.
One big difference between 2010 and 2009, Falb said, was the number of motorcycle fatalities in Iowa: 60 in 2010, versus 49 in 2009.
Nebraska had 14 motorcycle fatalities in 2010, a little below average.
Nebraska has a mandatory helmet law; Iowa does not.
Zwonechek is estimating that drivers logged 19.53 billion miles in Nebraska in 2010. That's figuring a 2 percent increase from 2009's 19.147 billion miles.
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