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Motorcycles, SUVs Lead Crash Count

Deaths from crashes of motorcycles and sport utility vehicles rose last year, leading to a slight uptick in the overall highway fatality count.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday that 43,220 people died in 2003, up from 42,815 in 2002. People drove more miles on average last year, so the rate of deaths per miles traveled was about the same.

Fifty-eight percent of those killed weren't wearing seat belts.

NHTSA said there was an 11 percent increase in motorcycle deaths for a total of 3,592. Passenger car fatalities declined by 778, but SUV fatalities increased by 456. NHTSA said that was partly due to increases in SUV sales.

Forty percent of crash deaths - or 17,401 - were alcohol-related, NHTSA said. That was about the same as 2002, when 17,419 people died in alcohol-related crashes.

There were 972 deaths of children 7 and under. NHTSA said the relatively low level of child deaths is the result of an increase in the use of safety seats. The number of fatal crashes involving drivers 16 to 20 declined by 3.7 percent, to 7,452.

The figures released Wednesday are preliminary. NHTSA plans to release final 2003 fatality figures in August. NHTSA collects its data from police reports in all 50 states.

By Dee-Ann Durbin

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