WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- Thanks to high gas prices and higher seat-belt rates, the United States last year had its lowest number of traffic deaths since 1961, federal officials say.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, says the number of traffic deaths on U.S. roads were fewer than the year before, while seat-belt use improved.
The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 37,313 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2008 -- the lowest number of deaths on U.S. roads since 1961, when 36,285 lives were lost.
The nation also saw the lowest fatality rate recorded in 2008 at 1.28 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.36 in 2007.
"Lower fatalities and higher seat-belt use are trends we want to see," LaHood said in a statement. "States like Michigan are raising the bar on seat-belt use, making communities safer and keeping families intact."
In Michigan, the seat-belt use rate was 97.2 percent in 2008. By contrast, Massachusetts was 66.8 percent.
Michigan, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Maryland, Iowa, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Delaware, Indiana, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Illinois and the District of Columbia achieved seat-belt use rates of 90 percent or higher.
The states with the lowest use rates, all less than 70 percent, were Massachusetts, Wyoming and New Hampshire.