Knoxville, Tenn. — Tennessee’s highway deaths in 2011 stayed below 1,000 for just the third time in 48 years, according to preliminary figures.

The state had 947 traffic-related deaths last year, in what may be the safest 12 months on Tennessee roads in nearly a half century, according to the numbers released by the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Last year’s preliminary figure is six more than the total in 1963, when the state was less populated and fewer cars were on the road, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Law enforcement authorities say tough enforcement of drunken driving and seat belt laws contributed to last year’s historically low number of traffic fatalities. They also point to better training and equipment and changes in societal attitudes about drinking and driving.

“One life lost is one too many, but we are encouraged by last year’s fatality results and will continue to make every effort to ensure the public’s safety on Tennessee roadways,” Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said.

THP Sgt. Stacey Heatherly said that when she first became a trooper 14 years ago, there was only basic training given in DUI enforcement, and Breathalyzer machines were not as readily available as many people assumed.

Since then, she said, more and better equipment is more readily available. TAS