Estimated safety belt use on U.S. roads has hit 80 percent for the first time in the drive to reduce highway fatalities, which totaled more than 42,000 last year, the government said on September 16, according to a report by Reuters.Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, in Washington state to announce the results of an annual survey of seat belt use, noted the rate has climbed steadily in recent years and is 1 percentage point higher than the 2003 figure. He credited the improvement to mandatory state belt laws for drivers and front-seat passengers. Chuck Hurley, executive director of the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, said the remaining 20 percent includes most of the people involved in crashes — such as teenagers, speeders, drunk drivers, and unlicensed drivers. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, 56 percent of occupants who died in crashes in 2003 were not wearing seat belts compared with 60 percent in the previous year. The United States still lags far behind Europe and other developed regions where belt use tops 90 percent.