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Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2004 Conditions and Performance
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Chapter 5 Executive Summary

Safety Performance: Highways

The U.S. Department of Transportation has established the goal of reducing the highway fatality rate to 1.00 per 100 million VMT by 2008. Federal safety initiatives intended to support the achievement of this goal are discussed in Chapter 11, while this chapter focuses on safety statistics.

Highway fatalities increased slightly between 1997 (42,013) and 2002 (43,005). Although the number of fatalities has fallen sharply since 1966, when Federal legislation first addressed highway safety, there has been a steady increase in the annual number of fatalities between 1994 and 2002.

Fatality rate, 1980 to 2002. Bar chart plotting incidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled over time. The trend starts at above 3.5 in 1980 and drops to just above 2.5 for 1983. The trend is along the 2.5 line through 1986, and then begins to drop each year, reaching about 1.6 in 1992. The trend is flat along at this value 1996, and drops slightly to 1.5 by the year 2000 and 2001. Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The fatality rate per 100 million VMT dropped from 1.64 in 1997 to 1.51 in 2002. This drop coincided with a significant increase in the number of VMT. Similarly, the fatality rate per 100,000 population was 14.93, a decrease from the 1997 fatality rate of 15.69.

The number of injuries declined from about 3.35 million in 1997 to 2.89 million in 2002. The injury rate per 100,000 people declined from 1,250 in 1997 to 1,016 in 2002, and the injury rate per 100 million VMT dropped from 131 in 1997 to 102 in 2002.

Injury rate, 1988 to 2002. Line chart plotting injuries per 100 million vehicle miles traveled over time. The trend starts at about 170 in 1988 and swings down to just below 140 for the years 1992 and 1993. The trend swings up slightly to just above 140 in 1995, and the swings down to about 120 in 1998 and 1999. It begins to drop in 2000 and ends at about 100 in 2002. Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Alcohol-impaired driving is a serious public safety problem in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that alcohol was involved in 41 percent of fatal crashes and 6 percent of all crashes in 2002. The 17,524 fatalities in 2002 represent an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 30 minutes.

The number of alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 17,908 in 1993 to 17,524 in 2002, although the pattern of alcohol-related fatalities has been uneven—declining between 1996 and 1999, then increasing between 1999 and 2002.

Alcohol-Related Fatalities, 1993–2002
1993 1995 1997 1999 2000 2002
17,908 17,732 16,711 16,572 17,380 17,524
Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System / National Center for Statistics & Analysis, NHTSA.

The most common types of fatalities are those related to alcohol-impaired driving, single-vehicle run-off-the-road crashes, and speeding. There is a correlation between speeding, age, and alcohol consumption in fatal crashes. The NHTSA estimates that in 2002, 27 percent of underage speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated, while only 12 percent of underage nonspeeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated.

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