WASHINGTON (AP) _ Highway deaths declined last year, with the fatality rate hitting a record low, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said Monday.

There were 41,375 people killed on American highways in 1999, down from 41,471 the year before.

That marked an all-time low rate of 1.5 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven, down from 1.6 a year earlier and the third consecutive year of decline, Slater announced.

``This continued reduction in traffic fatalities is encouraging news,'' Slater said. ''...These statistics show that our commitment to safety is paying huge dividends.''

By comparison, the highway death rate was 5.5 per 100 million vehicle miles in 1966.

There was also a decline in the number of alcohol-related fatalities, which fell to 15,794 from 15,934 in 1998, according to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Other findings from the annual traffic safety report included:

_The number of pedestrians killed dropped 10 percent from 5,220 in 1998 to 4,695 in 1999.

_Deaths among children under five who were passenger vehicle occupants dropped slightly from 566 in 1998 to 543 in 1999.

_There was a slight increase in the number of people injured, from 3.19 million to 3.2 million.

_ Motorcycle crashes killed 2,537 in 1999 compared to 2,284 in 1998.

_ Fatalities in crashes involving large trucks dropped from 5,374 in 1998 to 5,203 in 1999.

_ Speeding-related traffic deaths rose from 12,477 in 1998 to 12,672 in 1999.