Transportation Deaths Down in 2007, But Rail, Motorcycle Fatalities Rose

Transportation-related deaths in the United States fell by 4 percent in 2007 from 2006, according to preliminary figures released Oct.16 by the National Transportation Safety Board. Acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the encouraging news is no cause for celebration.

Fatalities in all modes totaled 43,193 in 2007 versus 45,085 in 2006, with highway, marine, aviation, and pipeline deaths declining but rail deaths and motorcycle deaths rising. "While statistics show that transportation fatalities have declined this past year," Rosenker said. "There is still much work to do to prevent the loss of life on our roads, rails, waterways, and skies."

The data showed there were 41,059 highway fatalities (down from 42,708 in 2006), along with 5,154 motorcycle deaths (up 6 percent from 4,837 in 2006, giving this category the largest increase across all modes, according to NTSB). Aviation deaths fell from 784 to 545, with almost 90 percent of them occurring in general aviation (491, which was a significant decrease from 703 in 2006). Marine deaths dropped from 800 to 766. Rail fatalities rose from 774 to 808. "The vast majority of these fatalities were persons struck by a rail vehicle," NTSB said.

During a speech last week at the International Symposium on Distracted Driving in Arlington, Va., Rosenker focused on distracted driving and noted NTSB has investigated six crashes in which distractions played a major role in the cause of the crash. Three of them involved school bus drivers, one a charter bus driver with student passengers, and two involved young and inexperienced drivers. Two investigations in particular caused the Safety Board to state that novice drivers who are learning how to drive and gaining experience in traffic should not be using any wireless device while driving, and commercial operators that carry passengers, including school-bus drivers, should be prohibited from using wireless communications devices while driving. "We recognize that the driver must take responsibility, but it is our job to give drivers the tools they need to make the most of that responsibility," he said.

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