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 nations 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 nations 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. (Minnesotas 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 DOTs Federal Highway Administration.
"The progress weve made reflects the Bush Administrations 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 hes a keynote speaker at the 2005 Traffic Records Forum.
NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that, between 2003 and 2004:
NHTSA earlier estimated that highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.