AMERICANS are enjoying their safest year on the highways in three decades, federal officials say, as deaths and drunken driving are down and use of seat belts is up.
Transportation Department officials projected Tuesday that when 1992 is over, 39,500 people will have died in motor vehicle accidents - the lowest death toll since 1962.
They also expect the fatality rate based on total miles driven to continue the annual decline it began a decade ago, dropping one-tenth of a percentage point to 1.8 deaths per 100 million miles of vehicular travel.
"We're talking about the lowest fatality rate in history. It's something we all should celebrate," said Marion Blakey, who is the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington.
Officials attributed much of the decline to increased use of seat belts, encouraged through new state laws and increased police enforcement, and a decrease in the incidence of alcohol-related traffic deaths. They did not find any decrease in speed.
Basing on figures for the first six months of the year, highway safety officials project alcohol involvement in 45.8 percent of vehicle fatalities in 1992.
That would be down significantly from 48 percent last year, and continues a decline from over 57 percent in 1982.
The rate motorists and their passengers used seat belts increased to 62 percent nationally. That was up from 59 percent in 1991 and just 10 percent a decade ago.