Transportation Fatality Rates

Transportation Fatality Rates

There were about 45,500 fatalities related to transportation in 2002—16 fatalities per 100,000 U.S. residents1 [1, 2, 4]. This is the same rate as in 1992, when there were about 42,000 deaths. Approximately 94 percent of all transportation fatalities in 2002 were highway-related (figure 9-1). Most of these people who died were occupants of passenger cars or light trucks (including pickups, sport utility vehicles, and minivans). Air, rail, transit, water, and pipeline transportation result in comparatively few deaths per capita (see box 9-A). For instance, railroads contributed about 0.33 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2002.2

Overall, highway safety remained about the same between 1992 and 2002 when compared to the size of the population. There were around 15 fatalities per 100,000 residents each year over the entire period. Highway fatalities declined 15 percent for occupants of passenger cars, but increased 34 percent for occupants of light trucks between 1992 and 2002 (figure 9-2). (This is a period during which the number of registered light trucks increased from 57 million to 85 million [3].) Motorcyclist fatalities per 100,000 residents have been rising since 1997.

Similar trends in highway fatality rates are apparent when the rate is based on vehicle-miles traveled (vmt). Passenger car occupant fatalities per 100 million vmt declined 21 percent between 1992 and 2002, while light-truck occupant fatalities per 100 million vmt rose 10 percent (figure 9-3). Motorcyclist fatalities grew 36 percent during the period. However, after falling from 25 fatalities per 100 million vmt in 1992 to 21 fatalities per 100 million vmt in 1997, motorcyclist fatalities grew 62 percent by 2002.3


1. U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Monthly Population Estimates for the United States, available at, as of January 2004.

2. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Boating Safety, Boating Statistics, available at, as of January 2004.

3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics Summary to 1995 and Highway Statistics 2002 (Washington DC: 1997 and 2003), tables VM-201A and VM-1, also available at, as of January 2004.

4. U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Transit Administration, National Transit Database, Safety and Security Newsletter, Spring 2003, available at, as of January 2004.

1 This total fatality rate has not been adjusted to account for double counting across modes, because detailed data needed to do so were not available at the time this report was prepared. See table 9-1 for further information on double-counting impacts.

2 This calculation includes fatalities occurring at highway-rail grade crossings.

3 These motorcycle data are not shown in figure 9-3 but appear in table 9-3 in appendix B.