Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2002 Conditions and Performance Report
|Chapter 5: Safety Performance|
Part I: Description of Current System
Part II: Investment Performance Analyses
Part III: Bridges
Part IV: Special Topics
Part V: Supplemental Analyses of System Components
Highway Safety Performance
This section describes highway safety performance. It includes a look at fatalities and injuries on highway functional systems, across vehicle types, and among different segments of the population. It also examines the causes and costs of fatal crashes.
Statistics in this section are drawn from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). FARS is maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has a cooperative agreement with an agency in each State to provide information on all qualifying crashes in that State. Police accident reports, death certificates, and other documents provide data that are tabulated daily and included in the FARS.
NHTSA publishes an annual Traffic Safety Facts report that comprehensively describes safety characteristics on the surface transportation network.
Overall Fatalities and Injuries
Exhibit 5-2 describes the considerable improvement in highway safety since Federal legislation first addressed the issue in 1966. That year, the fatality rate was 5.5 per 100 million VMT. By 2000, the fatality rate had declined to 1.5 per 100 million VMT. The 2000 fatality rate, in fact, was the lowest on record, and is close to the target of 1.4 per 100 million VMT identified for FY 2003 in the FHWA Performance Plan. This plummeting fatality rate occurred even as the number of licensed drivers grew by more than 88 percent.
The number of traffic deaths also decreased between 1966 and 2000. In 1966, there were 50,894; by 2000, that number had dropped to 41,821. The number of fatalities, however, has not dropped as consistently as the fatality rate. Fatalities reached their highest point in 1973 (54,052), then declined sharply following the implementation of a national speed limit. Fatalities reached their lowest point in 1992 (39,250), but slightly increased between 1992 and 2000. Exhibits 5-3 and 5-4 compare the number of fatalities with fatality rates between 1980 and 2000.
The injury rate also declined between 1988 and 2000, the years for which statistics are available. In 1988, the injury rate was 169 per 100 million VMT; by 2000, the number had dropped to 116 per 100 million VMT (the target in the FHWA Performance Plan for FY 2003 is 107 per 100 million VMT). The number of injuries also decreased between 1988 and 2000, from 3,416,000 to 3,348,000; however, like the number of fatalities, injuries increased between 1992 and 2000.
Exhibits 5-5 and 5-6 describe the number of fatalities and fatality rates by rural and urban functional system between 1994 and 2000. These exhibits are important in describing the recent increase in fatalities and the distinction between fatalities and the fatality rate.
The overall number of fatalities grew between 1994 and 2000, largely because of deaths on rural roads. Between 1994 and 2000, the number of fatalities on rural roads grew from 23,879 to 25,342; at the same time, the number of fatalities declined from 16,837 to 16,479 on urban roads. The fatality rate, however, declined on both rural and urban roads. Although the absolute number of fatalities increased, the fatality rate dropped because there was a significant increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled.
The split between urban and rural functional systems shows other differences. Fatality rates declined on every urban functional system between 1994 and 2000. Urban interstate highways were the safest functional system, with a 0.6 fatality rate in 2000. Other freeways and expressways, however, recorded the sharpest decline in fatality rates. The fatality rate for other freeways and expressways in 2000 was about 39 percent lower than in 1994.
Fatality rates remained constant or slightly decreased on rural functional systems between 1994 and 2000; however, rural Interstates registered a slight increase. The rural Interstate fatality rate in 2000 was double that of urban Interstates. Travel speeds tend to be higher on rural Interstates than urban Interstates, making it more likely that crashes would occur.
Only a small percentage of crashes are severe enough to kill passengers. Exhibit 5-7 describes the number of crashes by severity between 1994 and 2000. In 2000, about 67 percent of crashes resulted in property damage only.
Safety belt use has been an important cause for the drop in fatalities and injuries since the 1960s. This trend is described extensively in Chapter 20.
Cost of Highway Crashes
Although the number of highway crashes has dropped sharply over the past three decades, highway safety remains a significant public health problem. Crashes also have significant economic impacts. Exhibit 5-8 describes economic costs, including medical bills and property damage, by crash type.
Types of Highway Fatalities
Exhibit 5-9 describes the types of highway fatalities in 2000. The three most common fatalities were related to alcohol-impaired driving, single vehicle run off the road crashes, and speeding. Many of the fatalities shown in Exhibit 5-9 involve a combination of factors—speeding and alcohol, for example—so these should not necessarily be viewed in isolation; in other words, the exhibit counts multiple factors.
Alcohol-impaired driving is a serious public safety problem in the United States. NHTSA estimates that alcohol was involved in 40 percent of fatal crashes and 8 percent of all crashes in 2000. The 16,653 fatalities in 2000 represent an average of one alcoholrelated fatality every 32 minutes.
Exhibit 5-10 describes the number of fatalities attributable to alcohol between 1993 and 2000. The number of fatalities dropped from 17,473 in 1993 to 16,653 in 2000, although the pattern of alcohol-related fatalities has been uneven— declining between 1995 and 1999, then increasing between 1999 and 2000.
There are three main groups involved in alcohol-impaired driving. The largest group, 21- to 34-yearold young adults, was responsible for 31 percent of all fatal crashes in 2000. Recent studies show that these drivers tend to have much higher levels of intoxication than other age groups. Chronic drunk drivers are another large group. Fatally injured drivers with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.10 grams per deciliter were six times as likely to have a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated than fatally injured sober drivers. Finally, underage drinkers are disproportionately overrepresented in impaired driving statistics. Not only are they relatively new drivers, but they are also inexperienced drinkers.
The second largest category of highway fatalities involves single vehicle run off the road crashes. In 2000, 15,905 fatalities occurred when drivers lost control and ran off the road.
Another type of highway fatality is related to speeding. In 2000, over 12,000 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes, and over 700,000 people were injured. Although much of the public concern about speedrelated crashes focuses on high-speed roadways, speeding is a safety concern on all roads. Almost half of speed-related fatalities occur on lower functional systems.
The estimated annual economic costs of speed-related crashes exceeded $24.4 billion in 2000. That included $10.3 billion in fatalities, $13.3 billion in injuries, and $3.8 billion in property damage.
For drivers involved in fatal crashes, young males are most likely to speed. The relative proportion of speeding-related crashes to all crashes decreases with increasing driver age. In 2000, 34 percent of male drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
Research completed by NHTSA shows the correlation between speeding and alcohol consumption in fatal crashes. In 2000, 23 percent of underage speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated. By contrast, only 10 percent of underage nonspeeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated.
Many speeding crashes also occur during bad weather. Speeding was a factor in 27 percent of the fatal crashes that occurred on dry roads in 2000 and in 34 percent of those that occurred on wet roads. Speeding was a factor in 48 percent of the fatal crashes that occurred when there was snow or slush on the road and in 60 percent of those that occurred on icy roads.
A fourth type of highway fatality occurs at intersections. Half of all urban crashes and one-third of rural crashes occur at intersections. Older drivers and pedestrians are particularly at risk at intersections; half of the fatal crashes for drivers aged 80 years and older and about 30 percent of pedestrian deaths among people aged 65 and older occured at intersections.
A growing safety problem involves crashes in construction and maintenance work zones. The number of fatalities in work zones increased from 868 in 1999 to 1,093 in 2000. Speeding was involved in 27 percent of these fatalities.
Crashes by Vehicle Type
Exhibit 5-11 describes the number of occupant fatalities by vehicle type from 1993 to 2000. The number of occupant fatalities that involved passenger cars decreased from 21,566 in 1993 to 20,492 in 2000. Occupant fatalities involving light and large trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles all increased during this period. Exhibit 5-12 describes the number of occupant injuries by vehicle type from 1993 to 2000.
The number of occupant fatalities in light trucks increased sharply between 1993 and 2000. Fatalities in these vehicles increased from 8,511 in 1993 to 11,418 in 2000, or an average annual increase of 4.9 percent. There were 887,000 light truck occupants injured in 2000.
The number of occupant fatalities in large trucks increased 22.5 percent from 605 in 1993 to 741 in 2000. There were 31,000 large truck occupants injured in 2000. These statistics, however, tell only part of the story. Large trucks are overrepresented in fatal crashes. Large trucks represent 4 percent of the Nation’s registered vehicles, 7 percent of traffic volume, and 13 percent of all fatal crashes.
The number of motorcyclists who died in crashes increased 16.9 percent from 2,449 in 1993 to 2,862 in 2000. There were 58,000 motorcycle injuries in 2000. Exhibit 5-13 describes the number of motorcycle occupants killed or injured per registered vehicle between 1993 and 2000.
Motorcycle crashes are frequently speed-related. In 2000, for instance, about 38 percent of all motorcycle fatalities were speed-related. Speed was two times more likely to be a factor in fatal motorcycle crashes than in passenger car or light truck crashes. Studies have also shown that alcohol was more likely to have been a factor in motorcycle crashes than passenger car or light truck crashes.
Crashes by Age Group
Another important way of examining highway crashes is by demographic segment. Exhibit 5-14 describes the number of drivers, by age, involved in fatal crashes in 2000.
Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 constitute 8.7 percent of the driving population, but 14.6 percent of total fatalities. In 2000, almost 30 percent of the drivers killed in this age group had been drinking. Drivers in the next oldest age category, those between 21 and 24 years, made up 5.2 percent of the driving population and 10.5 percent of the total number of fatal crashes.
On the other end of the spectrum, drivers aged 70 and older were involved in 8.4 percent of fatal crashes in 2000. Older drivers have a low fatality rate per capita, but a high fatality rate per mile driven. In fact, drivers over 85 have the highest fatality rate on a per mile driven basis of all drivers—over nine times as high as the rate for drivers who are 25 to 69 years old.
This is largely due to the nature of driving among many older Americans. Older drivers tend to take shorter trips. They usually avoid driving during bad weather and at night; in 2000, for instance, 81 percent of fatalities involving older Americans occurred during the daytime. Older drivers involved in fatal crashes also had the lowest proportion of intoxication of all adult drivers. In two-vehicle fatal crashes involving an older driver and a younger driver, the vehicle driven by the older person was more than three times as likely to be the one that was struck.
There were 18.5 million drivers aged 70 and older in 1999,
a 39 percent increase from the number in 1989. The proportion of older
drivers will continue to increase over the next two decades, presenting
the Nation with new public safety challenges.