More pressure could be applied to the US vehicle industry to enhance SUV safety after the federal government said highway fatalities rose again in 2002, with rollover crashes involving sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks a major factor, the Detroit News
According to the newspaper, citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's preliminary estimates for 2002, US highway fatalities increased for the fourth year in a row to 42,850 people, up from 42,116 in 2001.
The agency said 59 percent of those killed in traffic accidents last year were not wearing safety belts, the Detroit News
After declining throughout the 1990s, highway fatalities began rising in 1999. The number of fatalities in 2002 is the highest since 1990. The number of rollover deaths rose 4.9 percent, from 10,130 in 2001 to 10,626 in 2002, the paper added.
According to the Detroit News
, NHTSA attributed 53 percent of the increase in fatalities in 2002 to rollover crashes involving sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
"As a nation, we should be outraged over the loss of nearly 43,000 of our friends, neighbours and family members," said NHTSA administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the newspaper reported.
"Auto safety is a shared responsibility," Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told the newspaper. "We're doing our part."
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Centre for Auto Safety, a Washington, DC, consumer group, told the newspaper that SUVs presented two major safety problems: rollover deaths and a greater danger to car occupants in SUV-car crashes.
"The industry will continue to make unsafe SUVs until the government requires them to make safer SUVs," Ditlow reportedly said.
The newspaper said increasing seat-belt use is also a major priority of the Bush administration, especially in reducing rollover deaths. Federal officials estimate up to 75 percent of those killed in rollovers are unbelted.
"If we are ever going to reduce the needless deaths on the nation's highways, we're going to need the American public to bear greater responsibility for their personal safety," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said, according to the Detroit News.