The number of highway fatalities in 2005 was 43,200, more than the 42,636 occurring in 2004, according to a preliminary report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Norman Mineta, U.S. transportation secretary, declared the deaths a “national tragedy” and noted that 55 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who died in 2005 were not wearing seat belts.
“We have the tools to prevent this tragedy,” Mineta said. “Every car has a safety belt, every motorcycle rider should have a helmet, and everyone should have enough sense to never drive while impaired. Every year this country experiences a national tragedy that is as preventable as it is devastating.”
The report projects a fatality rate of 1.46 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from the record low of 1.44 in 2004. The report also found safety belt use at 82 percent nationwide. On-highway injuries in 2005 dropped 4.1 percent from the year before. There were 2.68 million injuries in 2005 and 2.79 million in 2004. The report also projected the eighth straight annual increase in motorcycle fatalities: 4,315 in 2005, 7.7 percent more than the year before, when 4,008 died.
The report estimates that highway crashes cost society $230 billion a year, or about $820 per person. The final 2005 report will be available in late summer. “We could save thousands of lives every year if everyone buckled up,” said Jacqueline Glassman, NHTSA acting administrator.