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Highway Death Rate for 2004 Sets Record Low

Alcohol-related deaths also dropped

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Dateline: August 2005

Even if just by a little bit, the death rate on the nation's highways in 2004 was the lowest since record-keeping began 30 years ago, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The number of alcohol-related fatalities also dropped for the second straight year.

All told, 42,636 people died on the nation’s highways in 2004, down from 42,884 in 2003. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was 1.46 in 2004, down from 1.48 in 2003. The fatality rate has been steadily improving since 1966 when 50,894 people died and the rate was 5.5.

"Drivers are safer today on our nation’s highways than they have ever been, in part because of the safer cars, higher safety belt use and stronger safety laws that this Department has helped champion", said Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta in a DOT press release. "But as long as the number of highway deaths remains as high as it is, we will keep advocating for the kind of vehicles, roads and driving habits that make people safer in their cars and trucks".

Since 2001, the number of states with primary safety belt laws has increased to 22, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, leading to an 80 percent safety belt use level, the highest ever. In addition, all states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have 0.08 blood alcohol laws for drivers. (Minnesota’s 0.08 law took effect Aug. 1).

In 2004, VMT increased to 2.92 trillion, up from 2.89 trillion in 2003, according to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

"The progress we’ve made reflects the Bush Administration’s strong commitment to improved safety. And credit must also go to those states where safety also is a high priority," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, MD. He announced the new fatality numbers in Buffalo, where he’s a keynote speaker at the 2005 Traffic Records Forum.

NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that, between 2003 and 2004:

  • Motorcycle fatalities increased from 3,714 to 4,008, an 8 percent rise.

  • Alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 17,105 to 16,694, a 2.4 percent decline.

  • Rollover deaths among passenger vehicle occupants increased 1.1 percent from 10,442 to 10,553.

  • Total fatalities in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) increased 5.6 percent, from 4,483 to 4735, while fatalities in passenger cars, pickup trucks and vans decreased a total of 834.

  • Twenty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had decreases in the total number of fatalities. The highest percentage decreases were in the District of Columbia (-36 percent), Rhode Island (-20 percent) and Minnesota, Montana, and Nebraska (–13 percent). The highest percentage increases were in Vermont (+42 percent), New Hampshire (+35 percent), New Mexico (+19 percent), and Alabama and Oklahoma (+15 percent).

  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities dropped to 31,693 – the lowest since 1992. Declining fatalities in passenger cars are consistent with more crashworthy vehicles in the fleet and increases in safety belt use.

  • Pedestrian deaths declined 2.8 percent from 4,774 in 2003 to 4,641.

  • Fatalities from large truck crashes increased slightly from 5,036 to 5,190.

  • In 2004, 55 percent (down from 56 percent in 2003) of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing safety belts. This underscores the value of the need for states to adopt primary safety belt laws.

    NHTSA earlier estimated that highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.

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