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201502.13
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The Latest Traffic Statistics: Good News And Bad News

For most of us, the word “statistics” just brings up visions of digits — numbers, percentages, rates, ranks — that, like beauty, are their own excuse for being. But the American Statistical Association (ASA) says,

“Statistics is the science of learning from data, and of measuring, controlling, and communicating uncertainty; and it thereby provides the navigation essential for controlling the course of scientific and societal advances.” It’s this last phrase that makes the collection and study of data critical to our everyday lives — for example, improving transportation safety.

Jump To: The Good News or The Bad News

One source of important highway data is NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. To be included in the FARS census, a crash must involve a motor vehicle travelling on a traffic way customarily open to the public, which resulted in the death of a person (either an occupant of a vehicle or a non-motorist) within 30 days of the crash. The data comes from police accident reports, state vehicle registration files, state driver license files, state highway department data, vital statistics data, death certificates, Coroner/Medical Examiner reports, hospital medical records, and emergency medical service reports.

Similar statistics are compiled by the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES). Data for GES come from a nationally representative sample of police-reported motor vehicle crashes of all types, from minor to fatal, and include property-damage-only events as well as those resulting in injury or death. The samples are chosen from 60 areas that reflect the geography, roadway mileage, population, and traffic density of the U.S.
Each year NHTSA publishes a Traffic Safety Facts report based on data in FARS and GES for the previous year. In December, the report for 2013 was released, and it includes both good news and bad news for America.

The Good News

  • Fewer people died on the roads (32,719 in 2013 compared to 33,782 in 2012) and fewer were injured (2.3 million versus 2.4 million).
  • Motorcycle deaths were down more than 6 percent.
  • Injuries to pedestrians decreased by 13 percent.
  • Roll-over accident fatalities decreased.
  • Overall, fatalities in alcohol-related crashes were down 2.5%.

The Bad News

  • Property-damage-only crashes increased by almost 3%.
  • Large-truck drivers were the only population segment to show an increase in the number of alcohol-impaired drivers.
  • More people were killed in crashes involving large trucks
  • Almost half (49%) of those who died in vehicle crashes were not wearing a seatbelt.
  • In states that do not have a universal helmet law for motorcyclists, there were 11 times as many motorcyclist fatalities as there were in states with such laws.
  • Twenty-four percent of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes in 2013 had a previous license suspension or revocation within just the last three years, for alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related offenses.
  • Crash fatalities among the 55+ community increased from 2012 to 2013.

The Take-away: Both Good & Bad

The study of crash statistics has resulted in some “societal advances,” as the ASA would say. Improvements in vehicle design have reduced the risk of roll-over accidents. Technological advancements are saving lives. Educational initiatives and law enforcement efforts appear to be having a positive impact on highway safety.

On the other hand, with millions of people still being injured and tens of thousands being killed in motor vehicle crashes, there’s more yet to be done. If we ignore the navigational directions statistics provide, we’re likely to be met with an echo of the dreaded “Re-calculating” and the task of figuring out how to get headed in the right direction.