Truck-related deaths rise 3 percent

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Highway fatalities involving large trucks increased 3 percent, from 5,036 in 2003 to 5,190 in 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced.

That trend contrasted with 42,636 overall highway fatalities, which NHTSA said was the lowest since record-keeping began 30 years ago. The number of alcohol-related fatalities also dropped for the second straight year.

“We anticipate the vehicles-miles-traveled/large truck fatality numbers due this fall from the Federal Highway Administration to confirm that truck safety continues to improve,” said Mike Russell, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations. ATA often points to the rate of fatalities per million miles traveled as a more accurate gauge of truck safety.

The District of Columbia’s number of highway fatalities took the biggest percentage drop – 36 percent – while Vermont, with a 42 percent increase in the number of highway fatalities, saw the biggest percentage gain.

The 2004 nationwide highway fatality total was 248 less than the 2003 total, 42,884. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.46 in 2004, down from 1.48 in 2003. The rate has been improving since 1966, when 50,894 people died and the rate was 5.5.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said that the lower rate is attributable to safer cars, more people using seat belts and safety laws pushed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“As long as the number of highway deaths remains as high as it is, we will keep advocating for the kind of vehicles, roads and driving habits that make people safer in their cars and trucks,” Mineta said.

Twenty-two states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have primary safety belt laws, and this has led to an all-time-high safety belt usage level of 80 percent. Also, all states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have 0.08 blood alcohol laws for drivers.

NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System also shows that between 2003 and 2004:

  • Motorcycle fatalities rose 8 percent, from 3,714 to 4,008.
  • Alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 17,105 to 16,694, a 2.4 percent decline.
  • Rollover deaths among passenger vehicle occupants increased 1.1 percent to 10,553 from 10,442.
  • Total fatalities in sport utility vehicles increased to 4,735 from 4,483, while fatalities in passenger cars, pickup trucks and vans decreased by 834.
  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities dropped to 31,693, the lowest since 1992.
  • Pedestrian deaths declined 2.8 percent, from 4,774 to 4,641.

    See the NHTSA report: website.