The Department of Transportation said last Thursday that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, declining for the 15th consecutive quarter.

According to early DOT projections, the fatality rate, which takes into account the number of miles traveled, reached the lowest level ever recorded, DOT said in a statement.

DOT estimated the highway death count at 33,963, a drop of 8.9% from the 37,261 reported in 2008.

The fatality rate for 2009 declined to the lowest on record, to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.25 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2008, DOT said.

The data did not show the fatality rate related to trucks.

Earlier this year, American Trucking Associations’ analysis of DOT data showed the rate of fatalities in accidents involving trucks fell 12.3% in 2008 from the previous year — the largest year-to-year drop on record.