Highway deaths reached the highest level in 12 years last year, but the number of injuries dropped to a historic low. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 42,815 people died in auto accidents in 2002, an increase of 1.5% from 2001. At the same time, the number of injuries dropped, from 3.03 million in 2001 to 2.92 million in 2002.
The agency said the differences may be explained by safer vehicles and more people wearing seat belts, leading to fewer injuries in lower-speed crashes. People wore seat belts about 75% of the time in 2002.
Fatalities in rollover crashes accounted for 82% of the increase in 2002. The agency said 10,666 people died in rollover crashes, up 5% from 2001. The number of people killed in sport utility vehicle rollovers increased 14%. Officials remained frustrated by the deaths caused by drunken drivers. Alcohol-related fatalities accounted for 41% of the total, or 17,419. That was up slightly from 17,400 deaths in 2001. Fifty-nine% of those killed in accidents weren’t wearing seat belts.