Highway Deaths Hit Six-decade Low, Government Data Show

The number of people who died in vehicle crashes on U.S. highways hit a 62-year low in 2011, according to government data released Monday.

There were 32,367 highway deaths last year -- the lowest level since 1949 and a 26 percent decline since 2005, according to an analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Connecticut, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan, respectively, led 36 states with lower overall traffic deaths in 2011.

"The long term trend is that fatality rates are falling, mainly because of safer vehicles," Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a statement. "People are walking away from crashes today that they wouldn't have survived 20 years ago."

The institute gave its "top safety pick" award to a whopping 66 vehicles for 2011. The award recognized automobiles that best protect motorists in front, side, rollover and rear crashes. 

Increasingly, car manufacturers offer crash-avoidance features like electronic stability control. However this year, some luxury carmakers were under criticism for faring poorly in new crash tests.

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