By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The number of people killed on U.S. roadways in 2005 climbed to the highest level in 15 years, an increase tied to rising deaths among motorcyclists and pedestrians, the federal government reported yesterday.
A total of 43,443 people died in traffic accidents last year, up 1.4 percent from the previous year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The agency said the motorcycle death toll rose for the eighth consecutive year. Last year, 4,553 motorcyclists died on the roadways, up 13 percent from the previous year. The agency said 4,881 pedestrians were killed last year, up 4.4 percent.
"The traffic environment is getting more dangerous," said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "People are driving a lot faster. We've lost momentum in reducing alcohol-impaired driving and unprotected road users, like pedestrians, and to some extent motorcyclists are going to suffer from that."
Lund said state governments need to adopt stricter helmet laws. Twenty states have mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists. Most recently, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas have rolled back their helmet laws, a NHTSA spokesman said. Other states began removing helmet laws in the late 1970s after federal incentives to promote them ended. States that have repealed helmet laws have seen sharp rises in motorcycle deaths, the agency said.
Figures from the annual report also showed that the number of drivers killed, ages 16 to 20, fell 4.6 percent, to 3,374 in 2005. The agency also reported a decline in crash deaths of children younger than 16.
The fatality rate in 2005 was 1.47 per 100 million miles traveled. The rate takes into account the larger number of vehicles on U.S. roads and the greater number of miles traveled. In recent years, the agency has made steady progress in lowering the rate of roadway deaths. The rate dipped to its lowest level in 2004 at 1.45.
Acting Secretary of Transportation Maria Cino said in a statement that the government had "zero tolerance" for any roadway deaths and repeated calls for motorcyclists to wear helmets and for all drivers to buckle up and stay sober. The Transportation Department oversees NHTSA.
NHTSA said it has launched an investigation into the rising number of pedestrian deaths. The agency is providing $600 million over the next three years to help states develop safety programs for pedestrians.
Occupant deaths overall, which do not include motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians, declined 1.4 percent to 31,415 in 2005. But occupant deaths in rollover crashes increased by 226, or 2.1 percent, to 10,816. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, pointed to the increase in fatalities as support for his call for the agency to impose stronger vehicle roof-crush standards. He said the current proposal is "woefully inadequate" because it is forecast to save 44 lives per year. Congress has mandated the agency impose a new roof-crush standard by 2008.
The agency said 2.7 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes, a 3.2 percent decline from 2004.
Men are more likely to die on the roads. In 2005, the number of men who died jumped 781 to 30,224, while female deaths declined 298 to 13,089. The number of bicyclists killed rose by 57 to 784.
NHTSA collects crash statistics annually from around the country and Puerto Rico to produce the report, based on the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The full report and data organized by state and county level are available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/ .