If traffic fatalities just hit a record low then why is Ray LaHood unhappy?

First, the good news: The government this morning announced that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, a new record.

Now the bad news: The boss is still unhappy.

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dismissed the results in a blog post this morning:

I am … disturbed that we are still talking about nearly 34,000 preventable deaths a year. There are still too many people dying in traffic accidents every year. Just too many.

What’s not to be happy about?

Traffic fatalities declined for the 15th consecutive quarter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The projected fatality data for 2009 places the highway death count at 33,963, a drop of 8.9 percent as compared to the 37,261 deaths reported in 2008, according to the government.

The fatality rate for 2009 declined to the lowest on record, to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) down from 1.25 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2008.

Any way you look at these numbers, they’re great news for the American motorist. Simply put, our roads have never been safer.

But holding up a “Mission Accomplished” banner might endanger LaHood’s pet project on distracted driving — a project we’d all be wise to support, by the way.

Then again, maybe LaHood can’t leave well enough alone.

We will be breaking down the numbers over the next few months to see where we have the best opportunities to reduce the number of traffic deaths even further. Because, although these numbers are moving in the right direction, we won’t rest while there are still deaths on America’s roads.

It would be nice to see that kind of zeal applied to consumer protections for airline passengers.

The DOT has signaled an interest in standing up for the rights of air travelers by increasing enforcement of existing regulations and creating new rules that would help passengers. But it still has a long way to go.

What do I mean? Well, try booking an airline ticket online, and you’ll see. Disclosure of a full ticket price is lax. Airlines continue to lure us in with a low base fare and then pile on the extras for everything from checked luggage to the ability to reserve a seat.

I hope that disturbs Ray LaHood. Something tells me it does.

(Photo: johnnypinball/Flickr Creative Commons)

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