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United States Department of Transportation Releases 2002 Highway Fatality Statistics

Highway fatalities in 2002 reached the highest level since 1990 while crash-related injuries hit an all-time low, the U. S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today.

As highway crashes continue to claim the lives of thousands, the grim statistics underscore the need for better state laws, stricter enforcement and safer driving behavior.

Alcohol-related fatalities remained at 41 percent of the total with 17,419 deaths in 2002, up slightly from 17,400 in 2001. Historically, the majority of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts; that trend continued in 2002 with 59 percent unrestrained.

The number of injured dropped from 3.03 million in 2001 to 2.92 million in 2002, a record low, with the largest decrease in injuries among occupants of passenger cars. Among other factors, the decline in injuries can be attributed to tougher federal safety standards and improved vehicle design, NHTSA said.

Though overall fatalities increased to 42,815 in 2002 from 42,196 in 2001, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) remained at 1.51, a historic low. According to Federal Highway Administration estimates, VMT increased in 2002 to 2.83 trillion, up from 2.78 trillion in 2001.

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

Fatalities in rollover crashes accounted for 82 percent of the total fatality increase in 2002. In 2002, 10,666 people died in rollover crashes, up 5 percent from 10,157 in 2001. The number of persons killed in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that rolled over rose 14 percent. Sixty-one percent of all SUV fatalities involved rollovers.

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 3,244 riders died, up slightly from 3,197 in 2001. It was the smallest increase in motorcycle fatalities in five years. However, deaths among riders 50 and over increased 26 percent.

  • Alcohol-related fatalities have been rising steadily since 1999. However, deaths in low alcohol-involvement crashes (.01-.07 blood alcohol concentration (BAC)) dropped 5.5 percent from 2001 to 2,401 deaths.

  • Fatalities from large truck crashes dropped from 5,111 in 2001 to 4,897 in 2002, a 4.2 percent decline.

  • Fatalities among children seven and under dropped to historic low levels. In 2002, 968 children seven and under were killed, down from 1,059 in 2001.

  • Pedestrian deaths also declined, to 4,808, a 1.9 percent drop from 2001.

  • In fatal crashes between passenger cars and LTVs (light trucks and vans, a category that includes SUVs), the occupants of the car were more often fatally injured. When a car was struck in the side by an LTV, the fatality was 20.8 times more likely to have been in the passenger car. In a head-on collision between a car and an LTV, the fatality was 3.3 times more likely to be among car occupants.

Administration Comments

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta emphasized his commitment to safety again today during an all-hands meeting with NHTSA, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. "It is time to acknowledge that history is calling us to another important task. It is the battle to stop the deaths and injuries on our roads and highways," the Secretary said.

Secretary Mineta said, "We have proposed a comprehensive series of initiatives to help make highways safer, and I personally urge states to pass tough laws prohibiting drunk driving and requiring the use of safety belts. Once and for all we must resolve the national epidemic on our highways."

SAFETEA (Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003), the Bush Administration's surface transportation legislative proposal, would provide more than $15 billion over six years for highway safety programs. This is more than double the amount provided by its predecessor, TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century). The majority of this funding would be through a new core highway safety infrastructure program instead of the existing Surface Transportation Program safety set-aside.

In addition, SAFETEA would create a new safety belt incentive program to strongly encourage states to enact primary safety belt laws and achieve substantially higher safety belt use rates. SAFETEA also would combine the several safety programs administered by NHTSA into a consolidated grant program. Under SAFETEA, states would have broad new flexibility to transfer safety funds among diverse safety programs administered by the Department if they develop performance-based comprehensive strategic highway safety plans that identify their highest priority safety improvements.

"If you drink and drive or fail to wear your safety belt, taking those risks may cost you your life," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, MD. "On the other hand, driving sober and wearing a belt will significantly increase your chance of survival on the highway."

The Administration's SAFETEA proposal is at on the Internet. NHTSA annually collects crash statistics from 50 states and the District of Columbia to produce the annual report on traffic fatality trends. Summaries of the FARS report are available on the NHTSA website at: