Statement on Release of Fatality Figures for 2004 Motor Vehicle Crashes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Jeremy Gunderson
August 1, 2005 (202) 408-1711 x27

Statement of Judith Lee Stone, President
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates)
On the Release of Fatality Figures for 2004 Motor Vehicle Crashes

Today's announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that overall motor vehicle fatalities declined in 2004 should be encouraging news, although deaths due to crashes involving rollover, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), motorcycles, and large trucks continued to climb:

  • Rollover fatalities grew from 10,442 to 10,553;
  • SUV deaths increased from 4,483 to 4,735, at the same time passenger cars, pickup trucks and vans decreased by 834 deaths.
  • Motorcycle deaths surpassed 4,000 (4,008 in 2004 vs: 3,714 in 2003), an 8% increase; and
  • Large truck deaths increased from 5,036 to 5,190.

Alcohol-related deaths were down by 2.4%, and pedestrian deaths dropped by 2.8%.

Final Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data for 2003, published by NHTSA, showed there were 42,643 deaths for the year. Today NHTSA reported that 42,636 people were killed in 2004 on our nation's highways. This high annual death toll has fluctuated between 41,500 and 43,000 for a decade, costing the nation more than $230 billion a year. The annual cost of motor vehicle crashes is nearly the amount of money authorized by Congress for the 6-year highway bill passed last week.

Passage in Congress of a new set of safety advances in H.R.3, the surface transportation reauthorization legislation, could not have come at a better time. Included were numerous directives to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue standards by certain dates for rollover prevention, improved roof strength, side impact protection, and better occupant ejection prevention, which apply to all vehicles and address safety issues across the board, including the escalating problem of SUV rollovers.

The bill also encourages states, through an incentive grant program, to adopt primary enforcement seat belt laws allowing a police officer to stop and ticket for lack of belt use. Passing these tougher laws and subsequently enforcing them is the most effective approach to boost seat belt use rates, which in the U.S. still lag behind European and other industrialized nations. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement seat belt laws.

Among many other provisions, the bill also includes a new emphasis at NHTSA by requiring a study on vehicle backover avoidance technology and a data collection system for non-traffic incidents, such as backovers in driveways and parking lots, heat exposure when trapped in a car, carbon monoxide poisoning and power window strangulation, especially of children.

It is always encouraging to see the fatality numbers go down somewhat, but the unacceptable toll of more than 42,000 deaths -- year in and year out -- is an economic, social and personal burden on too many Americans. Taking preventive action, such as the safety package in H.R.3, will lead to thousands of lives being saved over time and help alleviate this annual public health epidemic.

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is a coalition of consumer, health, safety and insurance companies working together to advance highway and auto safety.

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