WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta calls the problem of highway traffic deaths a "national epidemic" and encouraged Americans to view wearing safety belts as a form of preventive medicine. Mineta directed attention to his concern for traffic safety as he announced mixed results in the effort to reduce the number of people who die on U.S. highways each year.
While the fatality rate dropped and alcohol-related crashes were down from 2003, 42,800 died on the nation’s highways in 2004, up slightly from 42,643 in 2003, according to projected 2004 data compiled by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a preliminary report.
"We are in the midst of a national epidemic", said Secretary Mineta. "If this many people were to die from any one disease in a single year, Americans would demand a vaccine. The irony is we already have the best vaccine available to reduce the death toll on our highways — safety belts.”
Traffic crashes come at an enormous cost to society, Mineta noted. NHTSA estimates show that highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.
"Sadly, traffic crashes continue to be the leading cause of death of American children and young adults," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. "While seat belt use, at 80%, is at an all-time high, we could save thousands more lives each year if everyone buckled-up.”