The number of truck-involved fatalities dropped for the fifth straight year despite increases in other highway deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The trucking industry recorded its best highway safety improvement in nearly a decade as the number of truck-related fatalities dropped below 5,000 for the first time since 1995. The 2002 toll of 4,897 fatalities marks a 4.2 percent decline from 2001.
“This positive news is a tribute to our professional truck drivers and our motor carriers who work hard every mile, every hour, every day to safely share the road with other motorists,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.
The drop in truck-related highway deaths came as overall traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased from 42,196 in 2001 to 42,815 in 2002, the highest level since 1990. Alcohol-related deaths, motorcycle fatalities and young driver deaths increased.
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.
Though the number of fatalities increased, crash-related injuries were at an all-time low. The number of injured dropped from 3.03 million in 2001 to 2.92 million in 2002, 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.
Also, 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 $231 billion a year, about $820 per person.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta emphasized his commitment to safety again July 17 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,” Mineta said. “It is the battle to stop the deaths and injuries on our roads and 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, 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.
The Administration’s SAFETEA proposal is at wwww.fhwa.dot.gov/reauthorization/ 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 www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/.