Pennsylvania transportation officials say the number of highway deaths in the state dropped to 1,208 last year.

That is the lowest figure since highway fatality records began to be collected in 1928, according to the state department of transportation.

But when you factor in the number of vehicles on roads and the amount of miles they travel now compared to nearly nine decades ago, highway deaths have declined greatly, a York County traffic safety official said.

"When you consider the number of cars on the road, the number of miles travelled; the number (of deaths) are going down," said Wayne Harper, director of the Center for Traffic Safety based in York County. "We're made a lot of progress since 1928."

He partially attributed the state-wide decline to increased driver education and police enforcement initiatives.

Local numbers: Despite the drop in the number of traffic deaths across the state, there was an increase in York County last year.

The York County Coroner's Office investigated 49 traffic-related deaths in 2013 compared to just 30 in 2012.

Coroner Pam Gay said it's tough to say what causes the numbers to fluctuate each year.

"They had been dropping steadily throughout the years," she said.

Of the 49 cases the office investigated, 47 of the deaths resulted from crashes that happened in York County. Two crashes happened outside the county, but the victims were transported to a hospital here where they died.

The coroner's office doesn't investigate cases of fatal York County crash victims pronounced dead at out-of-county hospitals.

Despite the increase, the total of 49 deaths remains below the 10-year average of 52 deaths annually.

State wide: State officials say there were declines over the previous year in the number of people who died not wearing seatbelts, the number of speed-related fatalities and the number of single-vehicle crashes in which the operator drove off the road.

Highway deaths in which a driver had been drinking fell from 377 in 2012 to 342 in 2013.

Deaths involving drivers over age 75, distracted drivers and head-on or opposite direction side swipe crashes all experienced increases last year.

PennDOT says it has spent $50 million in the past five years on safety improvements to roads.

Safer cars: Apart from safer roads, modern cars are much safer and include one key feature not found in most, if any, cars in 1928 — seatbelts.

"In 1928 cars weren't quite as safe," Harper said.

The now required seatbelts were not common until the now defunct Swedish auto maker Saab introduced it as standard in the late 1950s.

Since then, agencies, such as the Center for Traffic Safety, has taken steps to educate drivers and passengers on the need to wear seatbelts. Police also have increased enforcement to not only make sure seatbelts are used but also get inebriated and aggressive drivers off the roads.

"I think that education and enforcement has made a difference," Harper said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.