April 23, 2002

U.S. highway deaths down slightly in 2001

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the results of its preliminary analysis of highway traffic fatalities in 2001.

According to these estimates, traffic fatality and injury rates remained at historic lows in 2001. Deaths of children ages 15 and under dropped to the lowest level since record-keeping began.

The preliminary fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles (VMT) was 1.50 in 2001, a statistically insignificant change from the final 2000 rate of 1.52. The total number of people killed in highway crashes in 2001 was estimated to be 41,730, compared to 41,821 in 2000. The number of people injured dropped from 3.2 million in 2000 to 3.0 million in 2001. In 2001, vehicle miles travelled increased slightly to 2.778 trillion in 2001, up from 2.75 trillion in 2000.

“Losing nearly 42,000 of our friends, neighbours and family members to highway crashes is unacceptable,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. “All of us – individuals as well as government – must work together to change the nation so that highway safety is every American’s priority.”

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: 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 Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., NHTSA Administrator. “The data are clear about the value of seat belts in reducing the severity of injury and the economic cost to society.”

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.
  • Fatalities involving large truck crashes dropped from 5,211 in 2000 to 5,192 in 2001.
  • 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 number of fatalities for children under five dropped 5.4 percent from 706 in 2000 to 668 in 2001. The number of fatalities for children ages five to 15 dropped 5.5 percent from 2,105 in 2000 to 1,990 in 2001.

NHTSA annually collects crash statistics from 50 states and the District of Columbia to produce the annual report on traffic fatality trends. The final 2001 report, pending completion of data collection and quality control verification, will be available in August. Summaries of the preliminary report are available on the NHTSA website at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/Rpts/2002/2001EARelease.pdf.

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