Alcohol-related fatalities increase for first time in 15 years

Monday, September 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The number of people killed by drunken drivers increased last year after 13 years of steady decline, according to federal data released Monday.

Overall highway deaths increased slightly in 2000 to 41,812, up from 41,717 in 1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Forty percent of those, or 16,653, involved alcohol, up from 38 percent, or 15,976, the previous year.

It's the first time alcohol-related deaths have increased since 1986, when 24,045 people were killed.

Over the past two decades, auto safety advocates have pushed successfully for tougher impaired-driving laws and made drinking and driving a social taboo. Advocates say more needs to be done to reach problem drinkers.

``We've already deterred virtually all of the social drinkers,'' said Chuck Hurley of the National Safety Council. ``We're now down to the hard core of people who continue to drink and drive in spite of public scorn, and obviously the only thing they will respond to is increased enforcement.''

NHTSA also found that motorcycle deaths rose significantly, from 2,483 in 1999 to 2,862 in 2000. It's the third straight year of higher motorcycle fatalities after 17 years of declines.

However, the number of traffic deaths involving children under 16 _ 2,811 _ was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1975.

``America's highways are safer than ever for children, and the historic low for last year underscores the effectiveness of our highway safety efforts,'' Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said in a statement. ``Unfortunately, we are still losing far too many lives to highway crashes every year, and we need to redouble our efforts.''

Deaths dropped for pedestrians, people riding bicycles and in accidents involving large trucks. Single-vehicle rollover accidents decreased for all automobiles except sport utility vehicles. SUV rollover deaths increased 8.9 percent, from 1,546 in 1999 to 1,684 in 2000.

NHTSA compiles its data from reports by law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.