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U.S. traffic deaths drop to historic low

Three people were injured -- none of them

Three people were injured -- none of them students -- when this school bus collided with a car Monday at Buckley and Canine roads in Holtsville. The school bus was on its way back to the yards when the accident occurred. The driver as well as the driver and the passenger from the other vehicle were taken to hospitals with injuries that were described as not life-threatening. (Dec. 12, 2011) Credit: Photo by Robert Garofalo

U.S. traffic fatalities in 2010 fell to the lowest levels since 1949, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Fatalities dropped 2.9 percent from 2009, to 32,885. Before this recent announcement, 2009's data represented the lowest fatalities seen in 60 years.

The data for 2010 marks the fifth consecutive year of fatality declines, according to the study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it's the longest string of decreases since recordkeeping began in 1899. The rate declined despite an increase of 46 billion more miles driven in 2010 compared with 2009, a 1.6 percent increase in overall driving.

Fatalities declined in most categories, including for occupants of passenger cars and light trucks, though pedestrian, motorcycle and large-truck fatalities did increase. Deaths involving drunken driving dropped 4.9 percent in 2010, but they still accounted for 10,228 lives taken.

In a new testing parameter NHTSA calls "distraction-affected crashes," nearly 3,092 deaths were caused by distracted texting or talking on cell phones, as well as talking to others in the vehicle or outside events, NHTSA says. The most commonly performed car distraction is talking to other passengers, followed by adjusting the car stereo, NHTSA says.

NHTSA will continue to study driver behavior and crash involvement and find associations that could help stem the habit. The study is expected to be released in 2014.

PHOTOS: LI car accidnets

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