Highway deaths linked to drunken driving fell to a record-low proportion last year but still accounted for more than one-third of the fatalities, new government figures show.

There were 16,189 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 1997, or 38.6 percent of the total, the Transportation Department said Sunday. That was a decrease of about 1,000 deaths from 1996, when drunken driving was responsible for 40.9 percent of the 42,065 traffic deaths. In 1982, 57.3 percent of the 43,945 fatalities were alcohol-related.The improved figures provide evidence that measures such as "zero tolerance" laws for young drivers have helped curb drunken driving. But officials stressed that more needs to be done.

"This is good news, but we must continue to do more to ensure that this decline continues," President Clinton said in statement accompanying the figures. The Transportation Department has set a goal of reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths to 11,000 annually by 2005.

For the first time since record-keeping began in 1975, alcohol-related deaths were below 40 percent of all traffic fatalities. And drunken-driving deaths among those ages 15 to 20 dropped 5 percent from 2,324 in 1996 to 2,209 in 1997, according to data by the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Other findings:

- Utah had the lowest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities in 1997 with 20.6 percent, followed by New York with 27.4 percent.

- The highest percentage of drunken-driving deaths, 49.8 percent, was among 21- to 34-year olds. The lowest, 5.9 percent, was among drivers 75 and older.