DOT Releases Preliminary Estimates Of 2001 Highway Fatalities

Highway deaths and injuries declined in 2001, despite an increase in vehicle miles traveled.

Traffic fatality and injury rates continued their decline in 2001, and the deaths of children under age 15 dropped to the lowest level since recordkeeping began.

The Department of Transportation''s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when it released its preliminary analysis of highway traffic fatalities in 2001 recently, noted that the total number of people killed in highway crashes in 2001 was estimated to be 41,730, a slight decline from 2000, when 41,821 people were killed. The number of people injured dropped from 3.2 million in 2000 to 3.0 million in 2001. In 2001, vehicle miles traveled increased slightly to 2.778 trillion in 2001, up from 2.75 trillion in 2000. A drop in fatalities and injuries could have an impact on workplace fatality and injury statistics as well, since vehicle crashes are the number one cause of occupational fatalities.

Despite the continued decline, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta noted, "Losing nearly 42,000 of our friends, neighbors and family members to highway crashes is unacceptable. All of us - individuals as well as government - must work together to change the nation so that highway safety is every American''s priority."

NHTSA''s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that, in 2001:

  • Motorcycle fatalities increased for the fourth year in a row following years of steady improvement. With 3,067 killed in 2001, it was the highest number of motorcycle fatalities since 1990.
  • The percentage of alcohol-related deaths in 2001 remained unchanged at 40 percent - 16,652 deaths.
  • The number of pedestrians killed, 4,698, remained virtually unchanged.
  • Young drivers (16-20) were involved in 7,547 fatal crashes in 2001 compared to 7,607 in 2000.

The NHTSA noted that fatalities involving large truck crashes dropped from 5,211 in 2000 to 5,192 in 2001, prompting Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Joseph M. Clapp to take a page out of Mineta''s book and say, "Although fatalities involving large trucks appear to have decreased for the fourth year in a row, the fact that more than 5,000 of our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, sweethearts and friends are being lost every year is intolerable. This apparent improvement is heartening and encourages us to work closer and harder with our safety partners in federal, state and local government, the private sector, and all those interested in improving motor carrier safety."

The 2001 statistics also continue to show the increased risk of death and injury when drivers and passengers do not wear seat belts or have their children properly restrained in child safety seats. Some 60 percent of those killed in crashes last year were not belted.

"As an emergency physician, I can tell you firsthand that a seat belt often makes the difference between survival and death in a crash," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. "The data are clear about the value of seat belts in reducing the severity of injury and the economic cost to society."

Summaries of the preliminary report are available on the NHTSA Web site at

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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