A preliminary report from the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) shows that overall fatality and injury rates on U.S. roads remained at historic lows in 2001, with deaths of children under 15 at the lowest point since record-keeping began, according to a CNN report by Beth Lewandowski. The report from the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that an estimated 41,739 people were killed in automobile crashes on the nation's roads in 2001, compared to 41,821 in 2000. The overall fatality rate in 2001 was 1.50 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a decline of 1.2 percent from the previous year that continues a downward trend since 1988. Sixty percent of those killed were not wearing their seat belts, according to the NHTSA. "As an emergency physician I can tell you firsthand that a seat belt often makes the difference between survival and death in a crash," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge. The number of people injured in vehicle accidents dropped from 3.2 million in 2000 to 3.0 million in 2001. Deaths among occupants of cars and large trucks declined in 2001, but the fatality numbers increased slightly for occupants of light trucks and vans -- a category that includes SUVs -- and more sharply for motorcycles. An estimated 3,067 people on motorcycles were killed in accidents last year, a jump of 7.2 percent that marked the fourth straight year of increases. Other estimates in the NHTSA's report, which is based on preliminary data collected from the 50 states and the District of Columbia, include: The total number of vehicle miles traveled in 2001 increased to 2.78 trillion, up from 2.75 trillion in 2000. The number of registered vehicles also increased, from 217 million in 2000 to 221 million last year. Fatalities for children under 5 dropped by 5.4 percent, to 668. For children ages 5 to 15, the number dropped by 5.5 percent, to 1,990. Young drivers, ages 16 to 20, were involved in 7,547 fatal crashes, compared to 7,607 in 2000. Forty percent of all highway deaths, or 16,652, were in alcohol-related accidents. That rate remained unchanged from the prior year. An estimated 4,698 pedestrians were killed last year, a statistic that also remained virtually unchanged from 2000. The final 2001 report will be available in August. Summaries of the preliminary report are available on the NHTSA Web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.