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  Conditions and Performance Report
Executive Summary

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Safety
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Through a variety of measures including educa-tion programs, aggressive law enforcement, and infrastructure-related safety improvements, significant improvements in highway safety have been achieved. While much remains to be done, the progress to date is one of the most important transportation “success stories” of the past 20 years.

Fatalities have fallen from 50,331 in 1978 to 42,013 in 1997. The fatality rate has plunged over a longer period. In 1966, the fatality rate was 5.5 per 100 million VMT; it had dropped to 1.6 by 1997. This plummeting fatality rate occurred even as the number of licensed drivers grew by nearly 80 percent.

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The injury rate has also declined, dropping from 169 per 100 million VMT in 1988 to 133 in 1997.

Four types of crashes have been identified for emphasis in future programs:

  • Single vehicle run-off-the-road crashes account for 36 percent of all highway-related fatalities. This represents about 15,000 fatalities each year.
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  • Pedestrian crashes represent 13 percent of all highway-related fatalities. This includes about 5,300 fatalities, and approximately 77,000 pedestrians are injured each year.
  • Speeding is a contributing factor in a third of all fatal crashes. This represents about 13,036 fatalities and 742,000 injuries annually.
  • Large truck crashes resulted in about 5,350 fatalities and 133,000 injuries in 1997.

The reduced fatality rates can be attributed to several factors, including increased safety belt use, air bags, road safety devices, and a sharp decline in alcohol-related crashes. Surveys showed that 69 percent of vehicle occupants used seat belts by 1997. Seat belt usage in conjunction with vehicular air bag systems provide additional protection in potentially fatal crashes. The proportion of fatalities attributable to alcohol dropped from about 57 percent in 1982 to 39 percent in 1997.

Transit safety incidents involving injuries and deaths had noticeable decreases from 1990 to 1997. Over this seven-year period, safety incidents involving transit fell from 251 per 100 million PMT (persons-miles-traveled) to 165, and fatality rates declined considerably, from 0.89 per 100 million PMT to 0.73.

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