Transportation Fatality Rates

Transportation Fatality Rates

There were about 44,900 fatalities related to transportation in 2003-15.4 fatalities per 100,000 U.S. residents.1 This is the same rate as in 1993, when there were about 42,800 deaths [1, 3]. Approximately 95 percent of all transportation fatalities in 2003 were highway-related. Most of these people who died were occupants of passenger cars or light trucks (including pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and minivans). Air, rail, transit, water, and pipeline transportation result in comparatively few deaths per capita (box 3-A). For instance, railroad incidents resulted in 0.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 20032 (figure 3-1).

Overall, highway safety remained about the same between 1993 and 2003 when compared with the size of the population. There were 14.7 fatalities per 100,000 residents each year over the entire period. Fatality rates declined 19 percent for occupants of passenger cars but increased 31 percent for occupants of light trucks between 1993 and 2003 (figure 3-2). (This is a period during which the number of registered light trucks increased from 60 million to 87 million [2].) Motorcyclist fatalities per 100,000 residents have been rising since 1998. Pedestrian and pedalcyclist fatality rates (at 1.6 and 0.2, respectively in 2003) have declined the most (down 25 percent and 32 percent, respectively) since 1993.

Similar trends in highway fatality rates are apparent when the rate is based on vehicle-miles of travel (vmt). Passenger car occupant fatalities per 100 million vmt declined 25 percent between 1993 and 2003, while light-truck occupant fatalities per 100 million vmt rose 9 percent (figure 3-3). The motorcyclist fatality rate grew 55 percent during the period. After falling from 25 fatalities per 100 million vmt in 1993 to 21 fatalities per 100 million vmt in 1997, motorcyclist fatalities grew to 38 per 100 million vmt in 2003.3


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

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics Summary to 1995 and Highway Statistics 2003 (Washington DC: 1997 and 2004), tables VM-201A and VM-1.

3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics 2005, table 2-1, available at, as of August 2005.

1 This total fatality rate has not been adjusted for double counting across modes because detailed data needed to do so were not available at the time this report was prepared. See table 3-1 in appendix B for further information on double-counting impacts.

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

3 Because of their magnitude, these motorcycle data are not shown in figure 3-3 (see table 3-3 in appendix B).