The government is crediting public safety campaigns with pushing the highway death rate to an all-time low last year.
Traffic accidents killed 41,967 people in 1997. Since people drove a little more than 2.5 trillion miles, the death rate was 1.6 per 100 million miles traveled, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.
Although the number of fatalities has been lower in some other years, the higher mileage held down the rate, the lowest since NHTSA started keeping statistics 30 years ago.
Traffic accidents killed 42,085 people in 1996, for a rate of 1.7 deaths per 100 million miles.
Dr. Ricardo Martinez, the agency's director, said Tuesday the country is starting to see the results of a coordinated effort to crack down on drunken drivers and red-light runners, as well as the benefit of programs such as the institution of graduated driver's licenses.
Much of the work has come in the form of human-interest advertising campaigns, such as haunting family videos of the victims of drunken driving crashes.
"I think what you're seeing is [that] really putting the human face on this works," said Martinez, an emergency room doctor by trade.
Of those who were killed last year, 21,989 died in passenger car crashes. Another 10,224 died in light-truck crashes, while 2,106 were killed in motorcycle crashes, 717 died in large truck crashes, and 17 were killed in buses. The agency listed 640 deaths as "other" or "unknown" occupants of vehicles and 154 as "other" nonoccupants.
In 1997, 5,307 deaths involved pedestrians, while 813 involved cyclists. All except for the light-truck, large-truck, and cyclist deaths represented declines from 1996.
Meanwhile, there were 2.38 million people injured in car accidents last year, while another 77,000 pedestrians were injured.
Written by Glen Johnson