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Highway fatality rate sinks to 30-year low

The fatality rate on the nation's highways in 2004 was the lowest since recordkeeping began 30 years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced. However, fatalities from large-truck crashes increased slightly from 5,036 to 5,190.

The total of alcohol-related fatalities also dropped for the second straight year.

All told, 42,636 people died on United States highways in 2004, down from 42,884 in 2003. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.46 in 2004, a decline from 1.48 in 2003. This rate has been steadily improving since 1966, when 50,894 people died and the rate was 5.5.

Since 2001, the number of states with primary safety belt laws has risen to 22, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, leading to an 80% 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 August 1.

NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System shows that, between 2003 and 2004:

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

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

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

  • Total fatalities in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) rose 5.6%, from 4,483 to 4735, while fatalities in passenger cars, pickup trucks, and vans decreased by 834.

  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities fell to 31,693, the lowest since 1992.

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

  • In 2004, 55% of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing safety belts, down from 56% in 2003.

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

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