Highway deaths increase for first time since 1986

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The highway death rate rose slightly in 2005, the first increase since 1986, the government said Wednesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a preliminary report that 43,200 people died on the road in 2005, up from 42,636 in 2004.

The fatality rate also inched up to 1.46 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, an increase from the record low of 1.44 in 2004. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called highway deaths a national tragedy that can be prevented.

“Every car has a safety belt, every motorcycle rider should have a helmet and everyone should have enough sense to never drive while impaired,” Mineta said in a statement.

But Lisa Lewis, director of the Partnership for Safe Driving, a Washington-based advocacy group, said helmets, seat belts and drunken driving campaigns won’t do enough to save lives.

“We have a huge problem with commercial truck and bus drivers who are falling asleep at the wheel,” Lewis said. “It’s cell phone use, it’s drowsy driving.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association believes the government should try to deter speeding, a major cause of highway deaths, said spokesman Jonathan Adkins.

Other findings include:

• Motorcycle deaths rose for the eighth straight year.

• 55 percent of people who died in passenger vehicles in 2005 weren’t wearing safety belts.

• Passenger car fatalities dropped 1.8 percent while light truck occupants killed increased by 4.3 percent.

• Deaths resulting from drunken driving increased 1.7 percent, from 16,694 to 16,972.

NHTSA collects the crash statistics from police at accident scenes. The final report is expected to be released late this summer.



On the Net:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov

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