It is tragic when anyone dies in an automobile accident, but it was good news for all Kentuckians when the Transportation Cabinet released its fatality numbers for 2013.
While 635 people lost their lives in highway fatalities in the state last year, the number was the lowest in 64 years and represented a 14.9 percent decline from the 746 who died on Kentucky roadways in 2012.
According to figures from the cabinet, you have to go all the way back to 1949 to see a lower fatality figure (573).
Many things have changed in transportation since 1949. Roads should generally be better designed and have more enhanced safety features such as lighting, guardrails and signage.
There are more police officers on patrol and their presence, as well as their technology, should be a factor in drivers adhering to the traffic laws.
Automobile manufacturers are producing products that are safer to drive. For instance, cars were not equipped with seat belts in 1949.
The seat belt industry boomed following the 1955 death of famed actor Jimmy Dean in a fiery crash in which he likely would have survived had he been wearing a seat belt. Volvo became the first to offer them in 1956.
Lap belts, made mandatory in the 1960s, segued into shoulder harnesses a decade later. Engineers in 1949 could not have dreamed of air bags.
It is worth noting that while seat belts are a recognized safety tool, 244 of those who died in highway deaths last year in Kentucky were suffered by people who were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Another 44 were killed riding motorcycles while not wearing a helmet.
But along with increased safety, cars today are also made to go faster, and many are equipped with things that can distract drivers, such as televisions and fancy sound systems.
In 1949, the cell phone was a long way from being invented; unfortunately today many accidents are caused by distracted drivers texting or talking on their mobile devices.
Stricter enforcement of laws regarding intoxicated drivers and a lower level at which drivers are convicted of DUI could also be factors in the reduced number of fatalities. Still, alcohol was a factor in 138 of the fatalities.
We are sure there are other reasons why the fatality rate dropped — such as the use of child-restraint seats and changes in the laws governing the process of young drivers obtaining their licenses.
The loss of even one life in a traffic accident is too many. But while we don’t ever expect to reduce the number to zero, a nearly 15 percent decline in one year is reason to celebrate.