DOT Reports Record Low Highway Fatality Rate

ON July 23, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported encouraging news for U.S. motorists, finding that the number of people who died on the nation's roads fell last year, leading to the lowest highway fatality rate ever recorded and the largest drop in total deaths in 15 years.

"Tough safety requirements and new technologies are helping make our vehicles safer and our roads less deadly," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said. "But we all must do more when so many are killed or seriously hurt on our roads every day."

In 2006, 42,642 people died in traffic crashes, a drop of 868 deaths compared to 2005. This two-percent decline in traffic deaths contributed to the historic low fatality rate of 1.42 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), Peters said.

Most significantly, fatalities of occupants of passenger vehicles -- cars, SUVs, vans and pickups -- continued a steady decline to 30,521, the lowest annual total since 1993, Peters said. Injuries also were down in 2006, with passenger car injuries declining by 6.2 percent and large truck injuries falling by 15 percent, she said.

Peters cautioned that troubling trends continue in motorcycle and alcohol-related crashes. Alcohol-related fatalities rose slightly in 2006 over the previous year, while motorcycle deaths rose by 5.1 percent. This is the ninth year in a row the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has seen an increase in motorcycle deaths.

"Proper training, clothing, gear and, above all, helmet use are essential to reversing this deadly trend," Peters said.

Drunk driving enforcement will continue to be a top priority for the department, said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason, noting no improvement in last year's alcohol-related fatalities numbers. In 2006, 15,121 fatalities involved a driver or motorcycle operator, pedestrian or cyclist who had a .08 or above BAC (blood alcohol concentration) compared to 15,102 in 2005, she said.

"There is a personal story behind these statistics and for every alcohol related fatality, the family left behind is shattered forever," Nason said.

NHTSA collects crash statistics annually from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to produce reports on fatalities and injuries. The report can be accessed in PDF format at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810791.PDF.

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