2002 USDOT Results Reportedly Show Need for Crash Prevention

July 29, 2003

The dramatically mixed results of the most recent U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(USDOT) survey showing historic lows in crash-related injuries and historic highs in highway fatalities reportedly testifies to the need for more stringent methods to prevent crashes and improve driving skills.

“While it’s clear that increased vehicle safety and tightening laws have helped to reduce injuries, the dichotomy of decreased injuries and historically high fatalities is a clear call for increased legislative intervention to promote safe driving,” Terry Tyrpin, senior vice president, insurance and research services for the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), said.

USDOT figures for 2002 indicate that the number of injured dropped from 3.03 million in 2001 to 2.92 million in 2002, a record low, with the largest decrease among occupants of passenger cars. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) attributes the change to tougher federal safety standards and improved vehicle design.

Concurrently, however, overall highway fatalities increased to 42,815 from 42,196 in 2001. Fatalities in rollover crashes accounted for 82 percent of the total fatality increase in 2002, claiming 10,666 lives, up 5 percent from 10.157 in 2001. The number of people killed in sport utility vehicle (SUV) rollovers increased 14 percent. Sixty-one percent of all SUV fatalities involved rollovers.

Alcohol-related fatalities remained at 41 percent of the total with 17,419 deaths in 2002, up slightly from 17,400 in 2001. Historically, mostly passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts; the trend continued in 2002 with 59 percent unrestrained.

“The number and type of fatalities indicate the need to use every means at our disposal to prevent crashes and bad driving,” Tyrpin noted. For example, the prevalence of SUV rollover fatalities show a need for licensing and traffic rules geared toward a mixed vehicle population of passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks; and the continuing impact of alcohol-related fatalities could be reduced with more swift and certain punishment for serious offenses, he added.

Other improvements could include:· State-by-state adoption of complete graduated licensing laws to ensure that
young drivers are fully experienced;
· More effective license review and testing for senior drivers;
· More consistent penalization by jurists against habitual and serious traffic law
offenders;
· Improved information practices by states resulting in more accurate
underwriting of driving risk, which will result in fairer premiums for all
policyholders.

“NAII stands ready to work with both state and federal lawmakers to help craft laws and regulations that will take highway safety to the highest level attainable,” Tyrpin said.

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