Traffic Fatalities Fell In 2013, But There's Still Plenty Of Room For Improvement

December 22, 2014

Traffic fatalities have been on the decline for years, tumbling 25 percent in the last decade alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 2013 continued that trend, with the fatality rate hovering at an all-time low -- though there's still plenty of room for improvement.

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For fans of bullet points, here are a few of NHTSA's key facts and figures:

  • Total traffic fatalities in 2013: 32,719, a 3.1 percent improvement over the 33,782 deaths reported in 2012 and an improvement of nearly 25 percent since 2004.
  • Traffic fatality rate for 2013: 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, an improvement from the 1.14 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled recorded in 2012 and one that ties NHTSA's all-time low. 
  • Total traffic injuries in 2013: 2,313,000, a drop of 2.1 percent from the 2,362,000 reported in 2012.
  • The number of passenger vehicle occupants killed in accidents fell three percent to 21,132, a number not seen since that category of fatality began being tracked in 1975.
  • The number of motorcyclists who died on the road in 2013 fell for the first time since 2009 -- though NHTSA points out that "There were 11 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in States without universal helmet laws...as in States with universal helmet laws".
  • The number of large truck occupants killed in accidents also fell for the first time since 2009, and sadly, 62 percent died in single-vehicle accidents.
  • Pedestrian fatalities fell 1.7 percent, but that number is still 15 percent higher than the all-time low of 4,109 reported in 2009.
  • The number of alcohol-related fatalities hit 10,076, which still accounts for roughly one-third of all fatalities, but it's an improvement of 2.5 percent over 2012.
  • The number of distraction-related fatalities dropped to 3,154, a 6.7 percent improvement over 2012 -- though the number of people injured in distraction-related accidents actually rose one percent.
  • Most states saw their number of traffic fatalities drop, with Wyoming reporting an impressive 29 percent improvement. Excluding the District of Columbia (where the number of fatalities is so low, any change represents a disproportionate drop or rise), Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, and New Hampshire were the only states to see a substantial increase in fatalities, with New Hampshire climbing 25 percent.
  • Alcohol-related fatalities fell 30 percent in Hawaii and 39 percent in Wyoming, but rose 19 percent in both Oregon and Utah, 22 percent in Virginia, and 44 percent in New Hampshire.

The good news in all those data points is, NHTSA's efforts to educate/remind the public about the dangers of drunk and distracted driving appear to be working.

The bad news is, there's still a long way to go before we reach zero fatalities and injuries.

The worse news is, NHTSA gets its data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. While FARS' data is reputable, it may understate the total number of U.S. deaths because it (a) only considers collisions that take place on public roads, and (b) only counts deaths as traffic fatalities if they occur within 30 days of an accident. As we've discussed elsewhere, other sources like the National Safety Council include accidents that occur on private property and deaths that take place up to one year after a collision.  

For a more thorough overview of NHTSA's data, check out this handy PDF.

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