Isles buck trend
in highway fatalities
Fewer people died on U.S. roads
in 2003, but isle numbers rose
Fewer people were killed or injured on U.S. highways last year, according to federal officials, but Hawaii was among the states that saw highway fatalities climb from 2002.
Federal officials crediting an increase in seat belt use and a decrease in drunk-driving accidents for the national drop in highway fatalities.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said 42,643 people died in traffic crashes in 2003, down 362 from the previous year. The drop comes despite more people doing more driving in 2003, when the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled fell to 1.48, the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1966, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"America's roads and highways are safer than ever," said Mineta.
Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., did not follow the national trend, however.
Hawaii highway fatalities increased 12 percent to 133 from 119 in 2002, but state transportation officials said that did not mean that the number of traffic accidents increased as well.
"What happened last year was that we had quite a few accidents where there were multiple fatalities," said transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa. "Half of them were alcohol related and the other half were speed related ... sometimes a combination of the two."
"What it comes down to is individual behavior ... we have 95 percent seat belt use and we're the first state to hit that level, but ... it's the person behind the wheel that decides whether to drive drunk or speed."
Nationally, the numbers also show that while fewer people in vehicles and fewer pedestrians died, motorcycle deaths rose by 12 percent last year, and are up 73 percent since 1997.
For all types of vehicles, the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a standard measure of highway safety, fell to an all-time low.
Highway officials were pleased that the number of motor vehicle fatalities declined by 362 deaths, the equivalent of one major plane crash, but they said that the broader problem was still enormous.
"We will never refer to 42,643 people dying on our nation's roadways as a victory," said Jeff Runge, the administrator of the National Highway Safety Administration, referring to the number of deaths in 2003. "But we were bound and determined to reverse the trend, and we have done so."
Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone, the Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report.