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March 6, 1998
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Overview Traffic Safety Facts 1996

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


A Public Information Fact Sheet on Motor Vehicle and Traffic Safety Published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Center for Statistics and Analysis


Introduction
Summary
Occupant Protection
Alcohol
Speeding
Motorcycles
Large Trucks
Cars, Light Trucks, and Vans
Driver Age
Youth
Male/Female Fatal Crash Involvement
Pedestrians
Pedalcyclists

Introduction

Motor vehicle travel is the primary means of transportation in the United States, providing an unprecedented degree of mobility. Yet for all its advantages, deaths and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for persons of every age from 6 to 27 years old (based on 1993 data). Traffic fatalities account for more than 90 percent of transportation-related fatalities. The mission of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is to reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses from motor vehicle crashes.

Fortunately, much progress has been made in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on our nation's highways. In 1996, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel remained at its historic low of 1.7, the same since 1993, as compared with 2.5 in 1986. A 68 percent safety belt use rate nationwide and a reduction in the rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes to 40.9 percent were significant contributions to maintaining this consistently low fatality rate. However, much remains to be done. The economic cost alone of motor vehicle crashes in 1994 was more than $150.5 billion.

In 1996, 41,907 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes, 3,511,000 people were injured, and 4,548,000 crashes involved property damage only.

This overview fact sheet contains statistics on motor vehicle fatalities based on data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). FARS is a census of fatal crashes within the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (although Puerto Rico is not included in U.S. totals). Crash and injury statistics are based on data from the General Estimates System (GES). GES is a probability-based sample of police-reported crashes, from 60 locations across the country, from which estimates of national totals for injury and property-damage-only crashes are derived.

Other fact sheets available from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis are Alcohol, Occupant Protection, Speeding, Children, Young Drivers, Older Population, Pedestrians, Pedalcyclists, Motorcycles, Large Trucks, School Buses, State Traffic Data, State Alcohol Estimates, and Rural Areas. Detailed data on motor vehicle traffic crashes are published annually in Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System.

Summary

In 1996, 41,907 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes -- an increase of 0.2 percent from 1995.

The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 1996 was 1.7. The injury rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 1996 was 142. The fatality rate per 100,000 population was 15.80 in 1996, a decrease of 1 percent from the 1995 rate of 15.91.

An average of 115 persons died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 1996 -- one every 13 minutes.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for every age from 6 through 27 years old.

Vehicle occupants accounted for almost 85 percent of traffic fatalities in 1996. The remaining 15 percent were pedestrians, pedalcyclists, and other nonoccupants.



Occupant Protection

In 1996, 49 states and the District of Columbia had safety belt use laws in effect. Use rates vary widely from state to state, reflecting factors such as differences in public attitudes, enforcement practices, legal provisions, and public information and education programs.

From 1975 through 1996, it is estimated that safety belts saved 90,425 lives, including 10,414 lives saved in 1996.

In 1996, it is estimated that 365 children under age 5 were saved as a result of child restraint use. An estimated 3,299 lives were saved by child restraints from 1982 through 1996.

Children in rear-facing child seats should not be placed in the front seat of cars equipped with passenger-side air bags. The impact of a deploying air bag striking a rear-facing child seat could result in injury to the child. NHTSA also recommends that children 12 and under sit in the rear seat away from the force of a deploying air bag. In 1996, 45 percent of passenger car occupants and 51 percent of light truck occupants involved in fatal crashes were unrestrained.

In fatal crashes, 73 percent of passenger car occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. Safety belts are effective in preventing total ejections: only 1 percent of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 20 percent of the unrestrained occupants.

Alcohol

In 1996 there were 17,126 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes. This is a 1 percent decrease compared to 1995, and it represents an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 31 minutes.

The 17,126 alcohol-related fatalities in 1996 (40.9 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year) represent a 29 percent reduction from the 24,045 alcohol-related fatalities reported in 1986 (52.2 percent of the total).

NHTSA estimates that alcohol was involved in 40.8 percent of fatal crashes and in 7 percent of all crashes in 1996.

In 1996, 32.0 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes in which at least one driver or nonoccupant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 grams per deciliter (g/dl) or greater.

All states and the District of Columbia now have 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws. NHTSA estimates that these laws have reduced traffic fatalities involving drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 16,513 lives since 1975.

Approximately 1.4 million drivers were arrested in 1995 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 123 licensed drivers in the United States (1996 data not yet available). About 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives.

From 1986 to 1996, intoxication rates (BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater) decreased for drivers of all age groups involved in fatal crashes.

Intoxication rates for drivers in fatal crashes in 1996 were 30.3 percent for motorcycles, 21.9 percent for light trucks, 18.8 percent for passenger cars, and 1.4 percent for large trucks.

Speeding

Speeding -- exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions -- is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. The human and economic sacrifice is unacceptable. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be $28.8 billion per year. In 1996, speeding was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes, and 12,998 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.

In 1996, 624,000 people received minor injuries in speeding-related crashes. An additional 75,000 people received moderate injuries, and 41,000 received critical injuries in speeding-related crashes.

In 1996, 87 percent of speeding-related fatalities occurred on roads that were not Interstate highways.

For drivers involved in fatal crashes, young males are the most likely to be speeding. The proportion of all crashes that are speeding-related decreases with increasing driver age. In 1996, 36 percent of the male drivers 15 to 20 years old who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.

Alcohol and speeding are clearly a deadly combination. Alcohol involvement is prevalent for drivers involved in speeding-related crashes. In 1996, 42 percent of the intoxicated drivers (BAC = 0.10 or higher) involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared with only 14 percent of the sober drivers (BAC = 0.00) involved in fatal crashes.

Motorcycles

The 2,160 motorcyclist fatalities in 1996 accounted for 5 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year. An additional 56,000 motorcycle occupants were injured.

Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 16 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and about 4 times as likely to be injured.

In 1996, 42 percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding. The percentage of speeding involvement in fatal crashes was twice as high for motorcyclists as for drivers of passenger cars or light trucks, and the percentage of alcohol involvement was 50 percent higher for motorcyclists.

In 1996, 43 percent of fatally injured motorcycle operators and 55 percent of fatally injured passengers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash.

One out of five motorcycle operators (20 percent) involved in fatal crashes in 1996 were operating the vehicle with an invalid license at the time of the collision. Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 1996 had higher intoxication rates (BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater) than any other type of motor vehicle driver. The intoxication rate for motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes was 30.3 percent.

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 490 motorcyclists in 1996. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 279 lives could have been saved.

Large Trucks

In 1996, 11 percent (4,619) of all the motor vehicle traffic fatalities reported involved heavy trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 26,000 pounds), and 1 percent (552) involved medium trucks (gross vehicle weight rating 10,000 to 26,000 pounds).

Of the fatalities that resulted from crashes involving large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds), 79 percent were occupants of another vehicle, 8 percent were nonoccupants, and 12 percent were occupants of a large truck.

Large trucks accounted for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and 3 percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property-damage-only crashes in 1996.

More than three-quarters (79 percent) of the large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 1996 collided with another motor vehicle in transport.

Only 1.4 percent of the drivers of large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 1996 were intoxicated, compared with 18.8 percent for passenger cars, 21.9 percent for light trucks, and 30.3 percent for motorcycles.

Cars, Light Trucks, and Vans

In 1996, 32,317 occupants of passenger vehicles were killed in traffic crashes and an additional 3,247,000 were injured, accounting for 91 percent of all occupant fatalities (passenger cars 63 percent, light trucks and vans 28 percent) and 97 percent of all occupants injured (passenger cars 74 percent, light trucks and vans 23 percent).

Occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes accounted for 40 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities in 1996. Occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes accounted for 45 percent of all fatalities, and the remaining 15 percent were nonoccupant fatalities (pedestrians, pedalcyclists, etc.).

Among passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes, 59 percent of the occupant fatalities in 1996 occurred in frontal impacts.

Ejection from the vehicle accounted for 27 percent of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities. The ejection rate for occupants of light trucks in fatal crashes was twice the rate for passenger car occupants.

Utility vehicles had the highest rollover involvement rate of any vehicle type in fatal crashes -- 37 percent, as compared with 25 percent for pickups, 19 percent for vans, and 15 percent for passenger cars.

Utility vehicles also had the highest rollover rate in injury crashes -- 9 percent, compared with 7 percent for pickups, 4 percent for vans, and 3 percent for passenger cars.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes in 1996 were unrestrained.

The intoxication rate for drivers of light trucks (21.9 percent) is higher than that for passenger car drivers (18.8 percent).


Driver Age

There are approximately 24 million people age 70 years and older in the United States. In 1996, this age group made up 9 percent of the total U.S. resident population, compared with 8 percent in 1986. From 1986 to 1996, this older segment of the population grew 2.2 times as fast as the total population.

In 1996, 178,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes, accounting for 5 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year. These older individuals made up 13 percent of all traffic fatalities, 13 percent of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Older drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1996 had the lowest intoxication rate (4.2 percent) 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 3.2 times as likely to be the one that was struck (58 percent and 18 percent, respectively). In 45 percent of these crashes, both vehicles were proceeding straight at the time of the collision. In 28 percent, the older driver was turning left -- 9 times as often as the younger driver.

When driver fatality rates are calculated on the basis of estimated annual travel, the highest rates are found among the youngest and oldest drivers. Compared with the fatality rate for drivers 25 to 65 years old, the rate for teenage drivers is about 4 times as high, and the rate for drivers in the oldest group is 17 times as high.

Young female drivers, under age 50, have a lower fatality rate than their male counterparts, on a per mile driven basis, while the rate is essentially the same for both male and female drivers over 50 years of age.

Youth

In 1996, 16- to 24-year-olds represented 24 percent of all traffic fatalities, compared with 8 percent for ages 1 to 15, 44 percent for ages 25 to 54, and 24 percent for ages 55 and over.

On a per population basis, drivers under the age of 25 had the highest rate of involvement in fatal crashes of any age group.

The intoxication rate for 16- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1996 was 14.1 percent. The highest intoxication rates were for drivers 21 to 24 and 25 to 34 years old (27.0 percent and 26.2 percent, respectively).

Nearly one-third of all children between the ages of 5 and 9 years who were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes were pedestrians. More than one-fifth of the traffic fatalities under age 16 were pedestrians.

Motor vehicle occupants 10 to 24 years old involved in fatal crashes had the lowest restraint use rate (43 percent), and those over age 65 had the highest rate (64 percent).

Male/Female Fatal Crash Involvement

In 1996, the fatal crash involvement rate per 100,000 population was almost 3 times as high for male drivers as for females. However, the population-based rates do not account for the actual on-road exposure, which is greater for males, or the percentage of the population that has driver licenses, also greater for males (see Figure 8).

Males accounted for 67 percent of all traffic fatalities, 69 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, and 86 percent of all pedalcyclist fatalities in 1996.

The intoxication rate for male drivers involved in fatal crashes was 21.4 percent, compared with 11.1 percent for female drivers.

Among female drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 1996, 33 percent were unrestrained at the time of the collision, compared with 47 percent of male drivers in fatal crashes.

Pedestrians

In 1996, 82,000 pedestrians were injured and 5,412 were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, representing 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes and 13 percent of all traffic fatalities.

On average, a pedestrian is killed in a motor vehicle crash every 97 minutes, and one is injured every 6 minutes.

Alcohol involvement -- either for the driver or the pedestrian -- was reported in 47 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Of the pedestrians involved, 32.3 percent were intoxicated. The intoxication rate for the drivers involved was only 12.0 percent. In 5.3 percent of the crashes, both the driver and the pedestrian were intoxicated.

Pedalcyclists

In 1996, 761 pedalcyclists were killed and an additional 59,000 were injured in traffic crashes. Pedalcyclists made up 2 percent of all traffic fatalities and 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year.

Most of the pedalcyclists killed or injured in 1996 were males (86 percent and 80 percent, respectively), and most were between the ages of 5 and 44 years (74 percent and 88 percent, respectively).

Almost one-third (31 percent) of the pedalcyclists killed in traffic crashes in 1996 were between 5 and 15 years old.



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