JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Traffic deaths on U.S. roads were down slightly in 2006 according to preliminary figures released by the Department of Transportation.

While the number of road deaths is projected to have declined slightly nationwide from 43,443 in 2005 to 43,300 in 2006, "even one death is too many," Secretary Mary E. Peters said. And over half of passenger vehicle occupants killed died unbuckled, the preliminary data show.

"Bad things happen when people don't buckle up, and no one is immune from the damage and devastation that comes from not wearing a seat belt," Secretary Peters said.

The secretary noted that, with the summer driving seasons now underway, police officers around the country are on patrol looking for people who aren't buckling up. She added that the U.S. DOT supports states with millions of dollars in highway safety funds annually, including the nearly $27 million being used to support seat belt enforcement efforts.

The preliminary 2006 fatality numbers project a 2006 fatality rate of 1.44 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), down from 1.45 in 2005. During the same period, injuries dropped 6 percent from 2.7 million in 2005 to 2.54 million in 2006. Previous estimates show that highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.

The preliminary figures also show that between 2005 and 2006: overall alcohol-related fatalities increased 2.4 percent from 17,525 to 17,941; pedestrian deaths dropped slightly, from 4,881 to 4,768; and fatalities from large truck crashes dropped from 5,212 to 5,018, a 3.7 percent decline.