NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The death rate in auto crashes went down again last year, according to data released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But there were some exceptions to that trend.
Overall, 42,636 people died in car crashes in the U.S. last year. That's fewer than the 42,884 who died in 2003.
It also means that slightly fewer people died for every 100 million vehicle miles driven in the U.S. last year.
In 2004, 1.46 people died for every 100 million miles driven in this country. In 2003, that number was 1.48. In 1966, 5.5 people died for every 100 million vehicle miles driven, according to NHTSA, and the death rate has been steadily improving since then.
Motorcycle deaths continued to increase, rising 8 percent from 2003, marking the seventh consecutive annual increase in motorcycle deaths. Last year, 4,008 people died in motorcycle crashes, up from 3,714 in 2003. The increase was lower than last year's however, when there was a 12 percent increase in motorcycle deaths between 2002 and 2003.
The number of deaths in SUVs also increased 5.6 percent while the number of deaths in passenger cars decreased by 3.2 percent. The increase in SUV deaths was also lower than last year's. Between 2002 and 2003, there was a 10 percent increase in SUV deaths.
NHTSA did not immediately release details showing the relationship between changes in the number of SUVs and motorcycles on U.S. roads and the number of deaths in those types of vehicles.
Over half -- 55 percent -- of those killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing safety belts.
"Drivers are safer today on our nation's highways than they have ever been, in part because of the safer cars, higher safety belt use and stronger safety laws that this Department has helped champion", said Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta in an announcement released by NHTSA.