2003 highway fatalities down, truck-related deaths up slightly

| Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The fatality rate on the nation’s highways in 2003 was the lowest since record keeping began nearly 30 years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday, Aug. 10. Crash-related injuries also dropped to a historic low last year.

Fatalities in large truck crashes, however, increased for the first time since 1997 while large truck crash-related injuries declined to the lowest level since 1995.

“America’s roads and highways are safer than ever,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta declared in a written statement. “The decreasing number of traffic fatalities and record low death rate on our roads shows that we are headed down the right road.”

Mineta told a gathering of media Tuesday in Washington, DC, that efforts by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contributed to the reduction in the fatal accident rate, including campaigns to encourage seat-belt use and discourage impaired driving. Also cited was work with state legislatures to pass tougher seat-belt and drunken driving laws, and rulemaking efforts to improve vehicle safety standards.

The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.48 in 2003, down from 1.51 in 2002. It marked the first time the rate has dropped below 1.5 since record keeping began almost 30 years ago.

The number of people injured in 2003 was 2.89 million, down from 2.93 the previous year.

Meanwhile, fatalities in crashes involving large trucks increased from 4,939 to 4,986.

Truck occupant fatalities increased from 689 to 723 while passenger vehicle occupant deaths dipped slightly from 3,886 to 3,879. Fatalities of non-occupants rose from 368 to 384.

Of the 723 truck occupant fatalities, 65 percent were not wearing a seat belt, down from 70 percent in 2002.

The total number of people injured in large truck crashes in 2003 decreased 6.2 percent to 122,000. Truck occupants injured rose 3.8 percent while injuries for other vehicle occupants fell 8 percent.

Other general figures not related to truck crashes showed that between 2002 and 2003 motorcyclist fatalities increased 12 percent. Rollover deaths among passenger vehicle occupants dipped 3.3 percent while sport utility vehicle rollover fatalities rose 6.8 percent.

Twenty-seven states had decreases in the total number of fatalities. The highest percentage decreases were in Colorado, 15 percent, and Vermont, 12 percent. The highest percentage increases were in the District of Columbia, 43 percent, Rhode Island, 24 percent, and Oregon, 17 percent.