It was encouraging to learn that highway deaths declined in 2011 across the country. In fact when compared to miles driven, the death total was the lowest since such record-keeping began in 1921, government data released Monday revealed.

But the total last year still was a staggering 32,310 deaths on our highways, which is a drop of 1.7 percent from the previous year. That’s the lowest number of deaths in more than 60 years.

Safety experts gave a number of reasons: less driving due to the economy; the wearing of seat belts; better safety equipment in cars; and effort to curb drunk driving, such as DWI checkpoints. We can’t get a good feeling over the 32,310 total because that’s still too many deaths. It is believed that when the economy improves there will be more deaths. Lower gasoline prices definitely will mean more recreational driving.

Another attention-grabbing statistic released is that the number of miles driven on America’s roads declined last year by 35.7 billion miles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. That was a 1.2 percent decline. There were 1.09 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, down slightly from 1.11 deaths in 2010.

One of the most encouraging statistics is that overall traffic fatalities have dropped 26 percent since 2005.

Missouri is in Region 7, along with Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Arkansas. The region had a 5.3 percent decline in traffic deaths last year.

Even though down, and even though much progress has been made through safety measures, 32,310 highway deaths is sad — much too high.