Road deaths decline after five-year rise

U.S. rate for 2003 is lowest on record, officials report

August 11, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Bucking a five-year trend of increased fatalities on U.S. roads, the number of people killed in car crashes dipped in 2003, the federal government reported yesterday.

Nationwide in 2003, road accidents caused 42,643 deaths - 362 fewer than 2002 - and 2.89 million injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officials called America's roads and highways "safer than ever" and said that the nationwide rate of fatalities was the lowest ever recorded - 1.48 deaths per 100 million miles driven, the first time the rate had dropped below 1.5. Americans drove an estimated 2.88 trillion miles last year, up from 2.86 trillion in 2002.

NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said yesterday that increased seat belt use might have contributed to the lower number of lives lost. In 2002, 59 percent of those killed in car crashes were not wearing a seat belt. Last year, that figure dropped to 56 percent.

Some safety advocates warned that the government was exaggerating the progress made.

Motorcyclist fatalities nationwide rose to 3,661, an increase of 12 percent. Deaths from vehicle rollover declined by 3.3 percent, but the number related to sport utility vehicles jumped by 6.8 percent, from 2,471 to 2,639. Rollover crashes account for only 3 percent of all accidents, but they represent one-third of all highway fatalities.

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