Safer roads and vehicles appear to be contributing to what has been a steady decline in U.S. highway deaths since they reached a near-term peak in 2005. Preliminary statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimate that 16,626 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2009, down 7 percent from 17,871 fatalities in the first half of 2008. The fatality rate (the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled) also dropped to 1.15 in the first half of 2009, down from 1.23 in the first half of 2008. A New York Times article by Matthew Wald notes that the recession and high gas prices may also have helped a bit. Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that the number of vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2009 declined by about 0.4 percent, or 6.1 billion miles. Improved seat belt use isÃ‚ anotherÃ‚ contributing factor. Check out I.I.I. info on highway safety.