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Traffic fatalities see nationwide decrease

WASHINGTON – Traffic deaths declined and fewer people were killed in alcohol-related crashes on U.S. highways for a second straight year, the government said Monday.

Some 42,636 people died on the nation’s highways in 2004, a reduction of 248 – or 0.6 percent – from the previous year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Alcohol-related fatalities dropped 2.4 percent, from 17,105 in 2003 to 16,694 in 2004. Safety groups attributed the decrease to all 50 states moving toward a uniform standard for drunken driving and to high-visibility enforcement such as sobriety checkpoints.

The decline in traffic deaths for the second straight year came as the number of motorists increased. When measured by the estimated miles driven, the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled dropped to 1.46, down from 1.48 in 2003.

“While we were pleased with the overall decrease in the traffic fatality rate, we will never claim 42,636 people dead on our highways as a victory,” NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge said in Buffalo, N.Y.

Traffic deaths declined in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The district had the highest percentage decrease, followed by Rhode Island, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska.

Capt. Patrick Burke, head of traffic enforcement for D.C. police, credited weekly alcohol checkpoints and photo enforcement of speed limits and red lights for bringing down the capital’s death total.

Traffic fatalities increased 42 percent in Vermont, the biggest jump in the nation, followed by New Hampshire, New Mexico, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Alabama led the nation with 150 more motorists killed, followed by Indiana with 114.

Fatal crashes continue to have a staggering cost. NHTSA estimated that fatal highway crashes cost society more than $230 billion a year, or about $820 per person.


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