Chapter 2: U.S. Transportation System

Chapter 2: U.S. Transportation System

Subway train outside
Chester Ford


Improving transportation safety is the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT's) top priority and the first goal specified in its Strategic Plan for FY2010FY2015.1 This section summarizes the status of fatalities and injuries related to transportation. In addition, the section presents statistics on distracted driving.

Safety Overview

To reduce fatalities and injuries, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not only promoted safety instructions and enforced regulations and policies, it has also implemented strategies to educate motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with the goal of preventing and avoiding accidents. One strategy implemented by the USDOT is increasing awareness about the dangers associated with distracted driving, such as texting and making phone calls behind the wheel. To date, more than 30 States have enacted laws that prohibit motorists from texting or using handheld communication devices while driving (Figure 1-2: State Laws on Distracted Driving, as of August 2010).

The total number of transportation fatalities declined from 45,500 in 2006 to 36,000 (table 1-4) in 2009a 20 percent reduction. In addition, the total number of transportation injuries dropped from 2.6 million in 2006 to 2.4 million in 2008a 9 percent reduction (Table 1-3: Transportation Accidents, Injuries and Fatalities by Mode).

In 2009, approximately 89 percent of fatalities connected to motor vehicle incidents involved passenger car occupants, light-truck occupants, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. The percentage of fatalities for passenger car occupants was 37 percent, while the percentages for light-truck occupants, motorcyclists, and pedestrians were 29, 12, and 11 percent, respectively (Table 1-4: Distribution of Transportation Fatalities). In 2009, 3,380 fatalities involved large trucks, about 9 percent of total fatalities.

Incidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials (hazmat) is a major concern for public safety and homeland security; however, the number of hazmat incidents declined from 21,000 in 2006 to 15,000 in 2009a 29 percent reduction (Table 1-5: Hazardous Materials Transportation Incidents). Among all the modes involved in hazmat shipments, about 84 percent of hazmat incidents occurred on highways. In 2009, paint or paint-related materials was the number one commodity involved in hazmat-related incidents; the top 20 hazardous materials accounted for more than 20 percent of all hazmat incidents (Table 1-6: Top 20 Reported Hazardous Materials Incidents).

Roadside inspection of commercial motor vehicles increased from nearly 2.3 million inspections in 2004 to more than 3.4 million in 2009 to enforce compliance with USDOT regulations for motor carriers and hazmat transportation (Table 1-7: Roadside Truck Inspections). The percentage of trucks taken out of service decreased from nearly 24 percent in 2004 to 19 percent in 2009.

To address concerns related to crew and cargo safety on international waters, this report presents statistical data related to international piracy. Since 2006, the number of piracy and armed robberies increased from 240 incidents to 402 in 2009 (Table 1-8: International Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea). More than 50 percent of piracy-related incidents occurred in the waters surrounding East Africa, where the increasing number of attacks involving armed pirates along the coastline of Somalia is now a major international issue.

1 U.S. Department of Transportation, Draft U.S. DOT Strategic Plan FY2010-FY2015: Transportation for a New Generation (Apr. 15, 2010), available at as of January 2011.