Iowans had more to celebrate than a Happy New Year this past weekend. The state posted the fewest number of drivers killed as a result of a traffic crashes in 2011 than in the last 10 years.

That is quite an accomplishment for a state with plenty open roads where people who have a hankering to put the pedal to the metal can do so just about anywhere (except Boise, of course). Iowa is not known as an unsafe state to drive in, despite the desolate roads and open highways, but to see traffic fatalities drop to their lowest levels in a decade is quite an accomplishment no matter how you slice it.

Authorities credit the strict decline to an increased awareness and emphasis on defensive driving; heightened enforcement of drunk driving laws and safer vehicles, all of which work together to create a safer driving environment for people cruising through Iowa.

In 2011 just 356 people died on Iowa highways. In 2009 Iowa had 373 traffic fatalities which was the lowest level in 64 years, when there were far fewer cars on the road than there are today. In 2010 that number rose to 390, but then dropped even lower last year.

Defensive driving has certainly helped make Iowa roads a safer place to be, but the increased emphasis on anti-drunk driving efforts by state and local police goes a long way to keeping drivers and passengers safe. Studies have repeatedly shown that after distracted driving, drunk driving is the most dangerous threat facing drivers today. When a driver is drunk their reflexes are slowed, their decision making and judgement skills are impaired; they are more likely to take risks behind the wheel and being more likely miss important environmental factors like slick roads, heavy traffic or even stop signs.

So, congratulations Iowa, for proving that attention to little details, like keeping drunk drivers off the road, can go a long way toward making your state (and every state) a better place to live.

Image: Chuck Felix /