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Old 07-18-2003, 07:14   #1 (permalink)
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United States:Rollovers Add to Increase in Traffic Deaths Last Year

New York Times
By DANNY HAKIM

DETROIT, July 17 — Federal traffic statistics released today showed that rollovers were the leading contributor to the increase in the numbers of deaths on the nation's roads last year.

A total of 42,815 people died in traffic accidents in 2002, the most since 1990, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was up from 42,196 in 2001. Most of the annual increase — 82 percent — was a result of rollover accidents. In April, preliminary statistics released by the traffic agency indicated that rollovers had caused 53 percent of the annual increase.

The death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled held at 1.51, the rate as a year earlier.

Rollovers are a particularly deadly type of accident that continues to rise as more Americans buy light trucks, particularly sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, which are more prone to rollovers than passenger cars because they ride higher off the ground.

"The fact that rollover crashes were responsible for 82 percent of the increase should be a wake-up call to the automobile industry and Congress," Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, a consumer safety group, said in a statement. "Automakers can and should protect motorists from death and serious injuries in rollover crashes."

Consumer groups have said the rise of S.U.V.'s has offset gains from air bags, seat belts and other improvements in safety technology.

Auto industry groups have said concerns about rollovers are mitigated by the fact they account for only 3 percent of all accidents.

Those accidents, though, are particularly fatal, leading to 10,666 deaths last year. Deaths caused by rollovers in S.U.V.'s rose 14 percent last year.

The industry is developing technologies to try and curb the problem; a new sport utility from the Ford Motor Company's Volvo division, the XC90, has technology that help its wheels stay grounded.

"We're trying to develop systems that help consumers avoid an accident," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group. "And then we're developing technology so that when people are in an accident, there are side air bags and curtains that help reduce the risk of injury."

Rollovers are hardly the only factor in highway deaths, or even in rollovers accidents themselves.

Deaths related to drunken driving have been increasing, and alcohol was linked to 41 percent of fatalities last year. Driving without using seat belts continues to be a serious problem: 59 percent of those who died on the roads last year were not wearing them.

"If you drink and drive or fail to wear your safety belt, taking those risks may cost you your life," Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the administrator of the traffic safety agency, said in a statement. "On the other hand, driving sober and wearing a belt will significantly increase your chance of survival on the highway."

The statistics also highlighted another safety complication from rising sales of light trucks — what happens to cars struck by them. In head-on collisions of light trucks and cars, car occupants are three times more likely to die. The dangers greatly increase when cars are struck in the side by light trucks.
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