Fatalities from drunken driving fell to their lowest level in over 20 years in 1997, but 42,000 people still died on America's roads last year.
In an indication of value of wearing a seatbelt, 63 percent of those who died in car crashes in 1997 were not belted at the time."The number of traffic fatalities would drop by 35 percent or more if people followed two simple rules: Wear your seat belt and don't drink and drive," said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
His agency released the annual report Thursday. It is based on data from accident reports completed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
While overall accident deaths were down slightly from 42,065 in 1996 to 42,000 in 1997, six states posted double-digit increases last year: Montana (up 33 percent), Delaware (29 percent), North Dakota (24 percent), Virginia (13 percent) and Maine and Utah (12 percent each).
Only South Dakota had a double-digit decrease, with the number of accident fatalities falling 14 percent.
The statistics showed that there were 16,520 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 1997, the lowest level since NHTSA's record keeping began in 1975. In percentage terms, 39.3 percent of the fatalities were alcohol-related, the first time that figure had fallen below 40 percent. In 1996, there were 17,126 alcohol-related fatalities, 40.9 percent of the total deaths.
The fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, another index, remained steady at 1.7. NHTSA officials were delighted the rate didn't increase, considering the increased amount of driving that has been spurred by the nation's improved economy and lower gas prices.