A national good news story did not come with a Maine edition: Although traffic deaths plummeted overall throughout the country last year to levels not seen in 50 years, Maine’s road fatalities actually increased slightly.

some standards, Maine’s numbers were also low — 159, up four deaths from the 155 deaths in 2008. But that means people are still dying at a rate of more than three per week, which is not something we can feel good about.

If a virus killed that many Mainers, we would beef up our public health budget. If it was a criminal gang, we would call for more police.

But while some highway deaths are unavoidable accidents, many are caused by drivers who fail to use adequate caution.

That also requires a response.

We know what makes the highways safer. The national decrease is credited in part to improved safety equipment, like side airbags, and the economic downturn, which meant fewer miles were driven on the roads.

But changes to driver behavior also made a difference. More people wear seat belts and fewer drive drunk than in the past, and it saves lives.

Maine should also focus on making changes that will make our roads safer.

Alcohol was involved in 47 of Maine’s deadly crashes in 2009, and police should keep up tough enforcement of drunken driving laws.

Speeding, especially by young drivers, is a leading cause of death on the roads and should be treated as a serious matter by drivers and their passengers. And efforts to limit distractions — like Sen. Bill Diamond’s ban on sending text messages while driving — should also be on the agenda.

Many of these deaths are avoidable if we make it our goal to avoid them.