Alcohol-Related Highway Fatalities Grow in 2002

April 24, 2003

Alcohol-related highway fatalities increased again in 2002 while the majority of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing safety belts, according to preliminary estimates from the U. S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

With overall highway fatalities also up slightly from 2001, the grim statistics reportedly underscore the need for better state laws that address the causes of the problem and stricter enforcement. In 2002, an estimated 42,850 people died on the nation’s highways, up from 42,116 in 2001. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) remained unchanged at 1.51, according to preliminary estimates.

It was the highest number of fatalities since 1990.

“If we are ever going to reduce the needless deaths on the nation’s highways, we’re going to need the American public to bear greater responsibility for their personal safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Fatalities in rollover crashes involving sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks accounted for 53 percent of the increase in traffic deaths. In 2002, 10,626 people died in rollover crashes, up 4.9 percent from 10,130 in 2001.

The preliminary report also notes some significant progress.

NHTSA said that deaths of children seven and under dropped to historic low levels. In 2002, 980 children seven and under were killed, down from 1,053 in 2001. Pedestrian deaths also declined to 4,776, a 2.2 percent drop from 2001. The number of persons injured in crashes also declined from an estimated 3,033,000 in 2001 to 2,914,000 in 2002, almost a four percent drop.

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

“As a nation, we should be outraged over the loss of nearly 43,000 of our friends, neighbors and family members,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. “All of us – individuals as well as government – should resolve to make highway safety our highest public health priority.”

The preliminary 2002 statistics also continue to show the increased risk of death and injury when drivers and passengers do not wear safety belts: 59 percent of those killed in crashes last year were not belted.

NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that, in 2002:

*Motorcycle fatalities increased for the fifth year in a row following years of steady improvement. A total of 3,276 riders died, up three percent from 2001. Deaths among riders 50 and over increased 24 percent.
*Of the total, alcohol-related deaths in 2002 accounted for 42 percent – 17,970 deaths – up from 41 percent (17,448) in 2001. *Deaths in low alcohol crashes (.01-.07 blood alcohol content) dropped 7.2 percent to 2,335 deaths. Deaths of persons in high alcohol crashes (.08 BAC and above) rose 4.7 percent. Alcohol-related fatalities have been rising steadily since 1999.
*Fatalities from large truck crashes dropped from 5,082 in 2001 to 4,902 in 2002, a 3.5 percent decline.
Young drivers (16-20) were involved in 7,722 fatal crashes in 2002, up slightly from 7,598 in 2001.
*The number of occupant fatalities for children ages eight to 15 increased by nearly nine percent.
*In 2002, vehicle miles traveled increased slightly to 2.83 trillion, up from 2.78 trillion in 2001, according to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

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