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Highway Deaths Reach 12-year High As SUV Rollovers Rise 14%

WASHINGTON July 18, 2003; John Crawley writing for Reuters reported the NHTSA said that number of people killed in sport-utility vehicle rollover crashes rose 14 percent last year as total highway deaths hit a 12-year high at nearly 43,000.

The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also reported that the number of car crash injuries fell in 2002.

Child and pedestrian deaths also went down as did fatalities involving large trucks.

But in 2002, SUV rollover fatalities jumped to more than 2,400 victims, an increase of 14 percent over last year, the government said. Sixty-one percent of all SUV fatalities involved rollovers.

Thursday's report finalized, with only minor changes, numbers in a preliminary NHTSA fatality report released in April.

Overall fatalities increased to 42,815 in 2002 from 42,196 in 2001. Rollovers involving all types of vehicles accounted for more than 80 percent of the increase.

Alcohol-related fatalities remained unchanged at 17,419, or about 41 percent of the total. And nearly 60 percent of the total number of people killed in auto crashes last year were not wearing seat belts.

The nation's top auto safety regulator, Jeffrey Runge, has launched a high-profile campaign to make SUVs safer.

There are 22 million SUVs on U.S. roads, about 10 percent of the total number of vehicles.

"The industry is always working to produce even safer vehicles," said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He said that the auto industry has added such safety features as electronic stability control and side-curtain air bags.