Highway Deaths Drop to 60-Year Low Transportation Dept. says seat belts, safer cars helped By Newser Editors and Wire Services Posted Sep 9, 2010 10:54 AM CDT 5 comments Comments Motorists sit in a Chicago traffic jam in this May 15, 2008 file photo. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, FIle) (Newser) – The number of people dying on the nation's roads has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, helped by a combination of seat belts, safer cars, and tougher enforcement of drunken driving laws.Traffic deaths fell 9.7% in 2009 to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950, the Transportation Department said yesterday. In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died on the highways. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the annual report "shows that America's roads are the safest they've ever been. But they must be safer. And we will not rest until they are." Year-to-year declines in highway deaths have occurred in previous economic downturns, when fewer people are out on the road, but last year's reduction in fatalities came even as the estimated number of miles traveled by motorists in 2009 increased 0.2% over 2008 levels.