Highway Deaths Rose Slightly in 2003

April 30, 2004

The nation’s report on fatalities shows there were 43,220 deaths overall on the nation’s highways in 2003, up slightly from 42,815 in 2002.

At the same time, injuries from motor vehicle crashes declined slightly in 2003, to the lowest levels since such data have been kept, according to preliminary estimates from the U. S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA estimates that the fatality rate in 2003 remained unchanged from 2002 – 1.5 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Motorcycle fatalities rose by 348 to 3,592, an 11 percent increase. Passenger car fatalities declined by 778, but SUV fatalities increased by 456, 55 percent of which were rollover crashes. This increase was partially accounted for by increases in SUV sales.

Declining fatalities in passenger cars and injuries overall can be attributed to more crashworthy vehicles in the fleet and increases in safety belt use.

In 2003, 58 percent of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing safety belts. Forty percent (17,401) of all fatalities were alcohol-related, essentially unchanged from 2002. This underscores the value of the need for states to adopt standard safety belt laws and to increase enforcement of impaired driving laws.

“This problem will not be solved in Washington, DC, alone,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. “We need the cooperation of every American to drive responsibly, fasten his or her safety belt and care for each other’s safety on the roads.”

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

“Although we are seeing progress in some areas, our nation must take this epidemic seriously,” said Dr. Runge. “Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in American children and young adults, but that can change through personal responsibility and enforcement of laws and regulations.”

NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that, in 2003:
* Pedestrian deaths declined 2.8 percent from 4,808 in 2002 to 4,672 in 2003.
* Fatalities from large truck crashes increased slightly from 4,897 in 2002 to 4,942 in 2003, a 0.9 percent rise.
* Deaths of children seven and under remained near historic low levels, with 972 children seven and under killed, compared with 968 in 2002.
* The number of fatal crashes involving young drivers (16-20) declined by 3.7 percent (from 7,738 in 2002 to 7,452).
* In 2003, vehicle miles traveled increased slightly to 2.88 trillion, up from 2.86 trillion in 2002, according to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.
* There were larger than normal increases in vehicle miles traveled in the last half of the year, consistent with improvements in the economy.
* The number of registered vehicles increased from 225.7 million in 2002 to 230.2 million in 2003.

Summaries of the preliminary report are available on the Web at:

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