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More women drivers are being killed on the nation's highways than ever before, possibly because society now accepts women as both drinkers and drivers, federal health officials reported Thursday.

From 1982 to 1990, the total number of highway fatalities increased 13 percent higher for women drivers and decreased 3 percent for men, said the National Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control.The center, a division of the Centers for Disease Control, said that although alcohol did not statistically account for the rise in fatal crashes for women, alcohol-related fatal crashes declined more slowly for women than men. And it said that "limited studies appear to indicate that the proportion of female drivers involved in fatal crashes and the proportion arrested for driving while intoxicated may be increasing."

For 1990, the number of traffic fatalities, 44,529, was the lowest reported since 1985, the center said. In that year, 13,635 women died in traffic wrecks compared to 30,866 men.

Preliminary statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that in 1991, total fatalities decreased even further to 41,150, with an 11 percent decrease among men compared to 1982 but a 7 percent increase among women.

"Possible explanations for the findings include changing roles for women (and) increased social acceptability of women as both drinkers and drivers," safety officials said. They also noted that more women are driving at times of high risk - on the weekends and at night.

The number of women drivers also increased 12 percent from 1982 to 1989, compared with a 7 percent increase among men.

The center, summarizing data from the NHTSA, said that from 1982 to 1990, the estimated number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities decreased 10 percent among females and 13 percent among males. Non-alcohol-related traffic deaths increased 33 percent for females and 12 percent for males.