A study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the number of lives saved annually by seat belts rose from 115 in 1960 to 25,000 a year in 2002.
"Of all the safety features introduced since 1960, one of them -- safety belts -- accounts for more than half of all the lives saved," Dr. Jeffrey Runge, NHTSA administrator said at Detroit's North American International Auto Show.
The number of vehicle fatalities fell for the first time in five years in 2003, to 42,643 from more than 43,000 the previous year.
Runge also praised government mandated safety devices including shatter-resistant windshields, stronger roofs, energy-absorbing steering columns and child-safety seats for saving lives.
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