Highway Fatality Data Released Today

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 202-408-1711 x15


Washington, DC. April 28, 2004: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) calls on Congress to pass legislation this year to halt the climbing death toll on our highways that is starkly portrayed in the report released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The preliminary data for 2003 highway crash fatalities and injuries shows that 43,220 motor vehicle deaths occurred in 2003, the highest number of fatalities since 1990 and the fourth year in a row that deaths have climbed. Last year, 42,815 people were killed on U.S. roads and highways -- the equivalent of a major airplane crash every other day of the week. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the United States.

"Today's startling and distressing news that Americans are being killed in record numbers on our highways is a call to action for Congress to enact the highway and auto safety provisions in S.1072, passed by the U.S. Senate in February. The road to safety cannot be paved with promises by the auto and trucking industries and the federal government to do better. Instead, Congress needs to show leadership and pass legislation that moves the safety agenda forward," said Judith Lee Stone, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, reacting to the disturbing increase in deaths.

The preliminary 2003 report, based on data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) on highway deaths, shows that deaths in passenger cars decreased, but deaths in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are climbing with no end in sight. SUV fatalities in rollover crashes increased a horrific 10 percent in a single year from 2,448 to 2,701. Additionally, fatalities due to large truck crashes increased to 4,942. The U.S. Department of Transportation is making no progress on meeting any of its goals to reduce truck-related crashes.

The Senate-passed safety bill requires NHTSA to move forward with reasonable deadlines on safety standards to address vehicle rollover prevention, crash ejection avoidance, side impact protection, roof crush strength, seat belt performance, and the crash compatibility of vehicles of mismatched size. Other provisions of S.1072 direct the federal highway and auto safety agencies to improve the safety of 15-passenger vans frequently used to transport children, church groups and sports teams as well as identify ways to address restricted visibility, particularly on SUVs, that can often lead to deadly backover incidents involving children, seniors and disabled persons. Other provisions in the Senate bill encourage states to pass booster seat laws and keep a lid on the growth of bigger more dangerous trucks on our streets and highways.

In recognition that existing federal government efforts are inadequate, the U.S. Senate, with strong bi-partisan support, adopted legislation that corrects problems and charts a safety course to reduce highway traffic fatalities and injuries. According to Stone, "This preliminary 2003 data confirms that Congress needs to step in and oversee NHTSA's agenda so that this deadly growing trend of more highway deaths every year can be stopped."

"If the aviation industry experienced over 800 deaths a week in airline crashes for just one month, much less four years running, a national emergency would be declared and the U.S. DOT and Congress would be scrambling frantically to address the public health crisis. The 2003 highway death toll is unacceptable by any measure. Administration excuses about more vehicles on the road or more miles driven is not an adequate response. The bottom line is that we are making no progress and standing still in the face of record highway deaths. The American public deserves leadership and action. S. 1072 contains reasonable, ready-made solutions to the tens of thousands of preventable fatalities occurring every year on our nation's roads," said Stone.

The FARS preliminary report also shows a dramatic 11 percent jump in motorcycle deaths in 2003 against a backdrop of efforts by state legislators to repeal all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. According to the FARS report, this is the sixth year in a row that motorcycle deaths have increased. Safety groups beat back attempts this year in several state legislatures including California and Maryland to repeal or severely weaken all-rider motorcycle helmet laws. Repeal efforts are still being considered by the state legislatures in Tennessee, Michigan and Missouri. Every state that has repealed or weakened its all-rider motorcycle helmet law has experienced an increase in deaths and injuries.


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer, is actively involved at the federal and state levels to reduce the terrible tragedy of crashes to families across the nation. More information about the unfinished highway and auto safety agenda and the safety provisions in S.1072 can be found on Advocates' web site, www.saferoads.org.

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