According to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of truck-related highway accident fatalities dropped 3.5% last year, while overall highway deaths rose slightly.

NHTSA said fatalities from large truck crashes dropped to 4,902 last year from 5,082 in 2001. Overall, an estimated 42,850 people died U.S. highways in 2002, up from 42,116 in 2001, the highest number of fatalities since 1990.

However, vehicle miles traveled increased slightly last year to 2.83 trillion, up from 2.78 trillion in 2001, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That means the highway fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) remained unchanged at 1.51, even though the total number of highway deaths increased last year.

NHTSA's preliminary 2002 statistics also show that the risk of death and injury when drivers and passengers do not wear safety belts continues to increase, as 59% of those killed in crashes last year were not belted.

Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 17,970 highway deaths, which is up 1% from the previous year.