Congratulations!

You were not one of the 50 people killed in traffic here during 1979.

The 1979 death toll was "the lowest on record" here. The quotation marks indicate that early in the century we didn't keep careful records, so we really don't know how many people were killed in traffic each year.

What we do know is that the earliest statistics we can finds are those from 1923. In that year, 91 people died in traffic in Washington.

As the years rolled on, more people traveled by auto and the death lists got longer.By 1934, our traffic deaths had climbed to 135, our all-time high.

Thereafter, several programs were initiated in an attempt to stop the slaughter. Safety education efforts were undertaken. Highway designers became more safety conscious. Traffic regulations were tightened. Periodic enforcement campaigns also helped motorists stay alive.

By 1975, the death count here had been reduced to 74.

In 1976, it was down to 60.

In 1977, two more lives were saved as 58 died.

In 1978, the reduction was spectacular. The death list shrank to 51 names.

The toll for 1979 was 50, the lowest on record, and I congratulate you for being alive to read about it. In fact, you may be the one person who accounts for the difference between 1978's 51 and 1979's 50.

Are 50 people doomed to die in 1980? Which 50? How did we keep you alive? What did we do right?

Everybody connected with traffic seems to have a different answer to these questions. I get the impression we're not sure how effective each of our programs is.

But when we put them all together, when we hammer hard on the dangers of alcohol (a factor in about half of all driver and pedestrian deaths), when we work with young people through school safety programs, when policemen police as they should and judges judge as they should, when offenders are forced to attend "Traffic School," and when Metro continues to lure people out of their own cars and into mass transit vehicles, we find that lives can be saved -- perhaps even important lives like yours, on mine, or Sonny Jurgensen's.

I don't know how important Metro's cntribution has been. Judge if for yourself:

Metrobus now rings up 460,000 trips each day, and Metrorail accounts for about 265,000. If there were no Metro, these people would travel in private vehicles. The law of averages says that some of those private vehicles would become involved in fatal accidents.

Getting all those private cars off the streets just has to be a plus. POSTSCRIPT

Unfortunately, there's a debit side to Metro's ledger.

On Jan. 3, Nancy Hauser called Metro to get information about the new bus service that would be starting on the 7th between Springfield Mall and Tyson's Corner. She found that schedules can be requested only between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. So she had to call again on the morning of the 4th.

However, the woman who took her schedule request couldn't tell her where the bus stop would be located in Springfield Mall. To get that information, Nancy was told to call another number. And when she did, the woman who answered said she had not yet been supplied with information about the bus stop. Nancy was left with the feeling that it shouldn't be so difficult to patronize Metro.

Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl agrees. "Yes," he said with a sigh. "You can blame this one on last year's budget cut. Our six consumer representatives were cut to one.

"We're back up to two again now, but that's still not enough. There are 12,000 bus stops in the system, and 8,000 people a day call us to ask questions about them, and other things. We just don't have the person-power to handle that many calls.

"We handle something more than 80 percent of the calls that come in, but that just isn't enough. That's our Achilles' heel. We're trying to improve the level of our information service.

"By coincidence, just last week we began moving the information people into larger quarters where they'll be working with a computerized 'look up' system. But I'm sure it will be many weeks before all the needed information is entered into the computer and all the bugs are out of the system. You tell Ms. Hauser she's right. It ought to be easier to patronize Metro, and we're going to have to make it easier -- even when our budget is slashed."

All right, Cody, but please ask the budget cutters on your board whether they ever heard of O. Roy Chalk.

Roy was the fellow who turned a successful transit company into a dead duck by reducing service when he should have been expanding it to attract more customers.