Sobering News

Eoin Wrafter, Commissioner


 William Johnson, Administrator


MADD Credits Increased Law Enforcement and Passage
of Key Anti-Drunk Driving Laws for First Significant
Decrease in Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities

For the first time since 1999, there has been a three percent decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.  This is the lowest level of alcohol-related fatalities since 1999 and we credit much of this success to increased law enforcement and passage of key anti-drunk driving laws across the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued its 2003 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, which shows that 17,013 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes -- an average of one almost every half-hour -- accounting for approximately 40 percent of 42,642 total traffic fatalities.

Lives are often taken needlessly when a person chooses to drive drunk.  Not only are lives taken but there is a financial burden on victim/survivor families and the rest of the community.  Alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost the public an estimated $114.3 billion in 2000, including $51.1 billion in monetary costs and an estimated $63.2 billion in quality-of-life losses.  This is why high-visibility law enforcement efforts like sobriety checkpoints, as well as enforcement of seat belt and .08 illegal blood alcohol level laws, save more lives and more money in the long run.  With 511 fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities from 2002 to 2003, it is clear that all of these efforts provide a comprehensive solution that is making an impact -- lives saved and injuries prevented.

-- Lynne Goughler, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), August 10, 2004

Highway Fatality Rates

NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) also shows that between 2002 and 2003:

  • Motorcyclist fatalities increased from 3,270 to 3,661, a 12 percent rise.

  • Rollover deaths among passenger vehicle occupants declined 3.3 percent from 10,729 to 10,376.  Sport utility vehicle (SUV) rollover fatalities increased 6.8 percent from 2,471 to 2,639, even as SUV registrations increased 11 percent.  Rollovers declined in passenger cars (7.5 percent; 4,794 to 4,433) and pickup trucks (6.8 percent; 2,755 to 2,569).

  • Twenty-seven states had decreases in the total  number of fatalities.  The highest percentage decreases were in Colorado (-15 percent); Vermont (-12 percent); Connecticut (-10 percent); Ohio (-10 percent); Oklahoma (-10 percent); and West Virginia (-10 percent).  The highest percentage increases were in the District of Columbia (+43 percent); Rhode Island (+24 percent); and Oregon (+17 percent).

  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities dropped to 31,904 -- the largest decrease since 1992.  Declining fatalities in passenger vehicles are consistent with increases in safety belt use and more crashworthy vehicles.

  • Passenger vehicle fatality rates per 100,000 registered vehicles declined for all passenger vehicle types except vans.

  • Pedestrian deaths declined 2.1 percent from 4,851 in 2002 to 4,749.

  • Fatalities in large truck crashes increased slightly from 4,939 to 4,986.

  • In 2003, there was a decline in the number of unbelted fatalities, reflecting an increase in safety belt use.  Still, 56 percent of those killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing safety belts.  This underscores the need for states to adopt primary safety belt laws.

NHTSA earlier estimated that highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.

NHTSA annually collects crash statistics from 50 states and the District of Columbia to produce the annual report on traffic fatality trends.

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