Chapter 6: Transportation Safety



  • In 2013, on average, about 95 people were killed and nearly 6,400 people injured per day in transportation-related crashes.
  • Transportation safety has been improving in recent decades, averaging 27 fewer fatalities and almost 2,400 fewer injuries per day in 2013 than in 2000.
  • Almost 95 percent of transportation fatalities and more than 99 percent of transportation injuries involved highway motor vehicles. In 2013, there were more than 32,700 fatalities and 2,313,000 injuries on the Nation’s highways.
  • In 2013 nearly 4,700 pedestrians and more than 740 pedalcyclists were killed. Alcohol involvement either by the driver or the pedestrian was reported in 49 percent of all pedestrian crashes in 2013.
  • Motor vehicle crashes caused an estimated $242 billion or nearly $784 per person in economic costs in 2010.
  • Comparing injury rates, crash victims in cars and other light-duty vehicles were 10 times more likely to be injured than crash victims in large trucks. A motorcyclist is 5 times more likely to be injured than a passenger car occupant when involved in a crash.
  • Almost 600 people were killed when they were struck by trains while trespassing on railroad property or at public highway-rail grade crossings. Recreational boating and general aviation accounted for more than 550 and about 400 fatalities, respectively.
  • Human factors, such as operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or while distracted, are some of the more common contributing factors to transportation fatalities. Cellphone use contributed to 71 thousand motor vehicles crashes. Many people also fail to use safety equipment, such as seat belts or DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets.

There were about 34,500 transportation-related deaths in 2013, a 3.3 percent improvement from the more than 35,700 transportation- related deaths recorded in 2012. Highway motor vehicle crashes accounted for about 94 percent of the fatalities, followed distantly by the rail, water, and air modes of transportation (table 6-1). In 2013 transportation accounted for 1.5 percent of deaths from all causes and 29.1 percent of the total deaths resulting from injury in the United States [USDHHS CDC VITALITY 2015]. There were 2.3 million nonfatal transportation-related injuries in 2013, down about 2.0 percent from 2012 [USDOT BTS NTS 2015]. Transportation- related injuries accounted for 13.5 percent of unintentional, nonfatal injuries that required a visit to the emergency room in 2013 [USDHHS CDC WISQARS 2015].

In recent decades transportation safety has improved, resulting in a considerable decline in fatalities and injuries. In 2013, despite growth in the U.S. population, the number of licensed drivers, and travel (as discussed in Chapter 1), transportation-related fatalities were down 22.1 percent from 2000 (figure 6-1). Even with the improvements, an average of about 95 people died and nearly 6,400 people were injured per day in motor vehicle crashes in 2013 (tables 6-1 and 6-3).

The timeframe and definitions used to attribute a fatality to a transportation crash or accident differ among modes according to their data collection methods, reporting periods, and information management systems. For example, a death that occurs within 30 days of an incident involving highway vehicles is considered a highway fatality, while a death that occurs within 180 days of a rail incident is considered a rail death. Such definitional differences pose challenges when comparing safety records across modes of transportation. Box 6-A shows fatality reporting requirements for several modes of transportation.

Fatalities by Mode

Table 6-1 shows that in 2013 transportation- related fatalities decreased by almost 10,000 (22.1 percent) from the number tallied in 2000. Despite this improvement, about 34,500 people died in transportation-related incidents in 2013. Many preventive measures, such as child safe- ty seats, graduated driver licensing, increased seat belt use, expanded enforcement of drunk- driving and driving under the influence laws, and education and enforcement, contributed to declines in highway vehicles deaths and injuries [USDHHS CDC NCI 2010]. Improve- ments in emergency medical response capabili- ties also played a role.

From 1990 through 2013, the overall rate of highway fatalities per vehicle-mile of travel (VMT) declined by 47.6 percent as the highway modes, except for motorcycles, showed across-the-board reductions. Fatalities per 100 million VMT for light-duty vehicle occupants (passenger cars and light trucks), as shown in figure 6-2, decreased 49.1 percent, followed by decreases in the fatality rates of large-truck occupants and highway nonoccupants (e.g., pedestrians, pedalcyclists, and other fatalities per 100,000 population) of 47.9 and 40.1 percent, respectively. Human factors, advances in vehicle design, and improved road design all contributed to these improvements [USDOT NHTSA 2012].

While reductions in fatalities and injuries have been the greatest on the highway, other modes, including general aviation, railway, and recreational boating, have also improved safety records. Figure 6-2 shows that the safety record of air carriers (as measured by fatalities per departure) has remained stable and low. But despite the fact that the general aviation fatality rate (as measured by fatalities per flight hour) decreased by 31.4 percent from 1990 to 2013, over 400 people died in general aviation crashes in 2013.


In 2013 passenger car and light truck (e.g., sport utility vehicle, minivan, and pickup truck) occupants comprised 61.2 percent of all transportation fatalities (table 6-2). Passenger car and light truck fatalities have declined about 11,100 since 2000, with the reduction in passenger car fatalities accounting for 8,700 of the decrease [USDOT BTS 2015].

In 2013 nearly 4,700 motorcyclists died. While the miles logged by motorcycles represented less than 1 percent of total highway vehicle-miles traveled in 2013, motorcycle fatalities accounted for 13.5 percent of total transportation-related fatalities, increasing nearly 1,800 from 2000 when they accounted for 6.5 percent of transportation- related fatalities. Several factors contributed to this increase, which are discussed later in the chapter (e.g., growing ridership, failing to wear a DOT-compliant helmet). The rise in the percentage share of motorcyclist fatalities also reflects the drop in the share of deaths attributable to other highway categories and nonhighway modes of transportation.

In 2013 nearly 5,500 pedestrians and pedalcyclists were struck and killed by motor vehicles, up from about 5,100 in 2010. Pedestrians and pedalcyclists—who increasingly share the roads with motor vehicles—accounted for 15.9 percent of total transportation-related deaths in 2013, thus they account for a larger share today than in 2000 (12.3 percent).

Highway fatalities in 2013 were concentrated along the major corridors in the populated areas of California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and throughout the populous and heavily traveled Northeast region near Boston, MA, down to the Middle Atlantic region, near Washington, DC. In addition, fatalities were also highly concentrated along major highway corridors and around urban areas in the South Atlantic region (figure 6-3).

In 2013 the ratio of males to females in the total U.S. population was 0.97, with females outnumbering males by about 5 million [USDOC CENSUS 2014]. However, the number of males killed on the highway exceeded the number of females killed for most age groups in 1990 and 2013 (figure 6-4). This difference is partially due to the fact that males, on average, drive more than females and thus have a higher rate of exposure to accidents.

Teenagers and younger adults had the highest fatality numbers in 2013, although their deaths have declined considerably since 1990. A potential contributing factor is that those under age of 30 in 2013 drove significantly less miles than their 1990 counterparts, reducing the exposure to highway crashes.

In 2013 males comprised 70.7 percent of highway fatalities, up slightly from 69.3 percent in 1990. The greatest numbers of highway fatalities by age and gender in 2013 were among 21-year-old males and 22-year-old females (figure 6-4). Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens aged 16 to 20 years [USDHHS CDC WISQARS 2015]

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs were established to help inexperienced, young drivers safely gain experience while limiting their exposure to high-risk driving conditions, such as night driving and carrying teen passengers during early months of licensure. GDL programs along with other factors have contributed to a considerable reduction in teenage and young adult fatal and nonfatal injury crashes [USDHHS CDC PHLP 2014].

Since 1990 there has been a considerable decrease in highway fatalities per capita across all age groups for both genders. The greatest numbers of fatalities per capita in both 2013 and 1990 were among males between the ages of 18 and 29, followed by those 79 and older. Female fatalities per capita in both 2013 and 1990 peaked for those between 16 and 27 years of age, followed by those over the age of 80. The 1990 rates were again higher (figure 6-5).


Unlike the large U.S. air carriers and commuter airlines, which combined had less than 20 fatalities in 2013, each year general aviation fatalities number in the hundreds. In 2013 about 390 people were killed in general aviation accidents (table 6-1), but even this relatively high number represents a significant drop from previous years. In the 10 years spanning 1990 to 1999, general aviation accidents killed an average of 716 persons per year and then dropped to 567 deaths per year in the following decade. Most general aviation accidents involved single-engine, piston-powered airplanes, which account for the majority of general aviation aircraft and flight hours [USDOT FAA 2013]. The loss of control inflight contributed to the majority of fatalities, whereas loss of control on the ground and engine-related system malfunctions were associated with the majority of nonfatal accidents [NTSB 2014a]. Ballistic parachutes are a standard feature on some general aviation airplanes and are retrofitted to others. They can help prevent fatal or serious injuries from mid-air collisions, loss of engine power, loss of airplane control, structural failure, pilot disorientation, or pilot incapacitation with a passenger on board [GPO FR 1997].

Fatal general aviation accidents were widely dispersed across the country in 2014. Nearly two-thirds of general aviation accidents resulted in a single fatality, another quarter resulted in two fatalities, and the remainder yielded multiple fatalities (figure 6-6). The popularity of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as “drones,” poses several challenges, which are discussed in box 6-C.

Recreational Boating

Recreational boating accounted for 560 transportation-related fatalities in 2013, second to number of fatalities occurring in highway crashes (table 6-1). According to the U.S. Coast Guard, many boating fatalities occurred on calm protected waters, in light winds, or with good visibility. Alcohol use, operator distraction, or the lack of training played key roles in fatal recreational boating accidents [USDHS USCG 2014].

Other Modes

Pipeline fatalities averaged about 15 per year between 2000 and 2013. Transit fatalities in 2013 were about 30 less than they were in 2000 (a 9.8 percent drop). In 2013 rail fatalities— primarily those killed when they were struck by trains while trespassing on railroad property— decreased 24.7 percent from 2000. Rail transit accounts for most of the decline in transit fatalities, but still accounts for slightly more than half all transit fatalities (table 6-2).

Injured People by Mode

All transportation-related injuries declined about 885,000 (27.5 percent) in 2013 from 2000 (table 6-3), which was largely due to an 876,000 (27.5 percent) reduction in highway- related injuries over that time period. All modes of transportation showed a decline in injuries between 2000 and 2013. Highway modes accounted for 99.1 percent of 2013 transportation injuries.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates, there were more than 2.3 million people injured in highway crashes in 2013. In contrast to fatalities, which are pulled from police accident reports and a census of all fatal accidents, NHTSA estimates the total number of people injured from a sample because an exact number from the many millions of accidents that occur each year is impracticable to tally. This estimate indicates that about 6,300 people per day are injured in motor vehicle crashes.

In addition to the people injured on the Nation’s highways, in 2013 about 21,000 people were injured in nonhighway-related incidents. Rail and rail transit accounted for the greatest number of injuries (about 9,100 and 8,800, respectively), followed by water (about 3,400)—mostly from recreational boating.

The injury rate for highway crashes per vehicle-miles traveled in 2013 was 66.4 percent of that in 2000. Comparing injury rates, crash victims in cars and other light- duty vehicles were 10 times more likely to be injured than crash victims in large trucks (figure 6-7). The air carrier injury rate (measured by the number of injuries per departure) remained relatively low and stable, including the general aviation injury rate (measured by the number of injuries per flight hour) between 2000 and 2013.

Costs of Motor Vehicle Crashes

Motor vehicle crashes caused an estimated $242 billion in economic costs in 2010 (the latest year for which estimates are available), up by $11.4 billion (4.9 percent) over the nearly $231 billion estimated for 2000. Approximately 27 percent (or about $3.1 billion) of the increase is attributed to inflation. The $242 billion in economic costs can be broken down as follows:

  • lost productivity accounted for $77.3 billion (31.9 percent);
  • property damage losses totaled $76.1 billion (31.4 percent);
  • congestion impacts reached $28 billion (11.6 percent);
  • medical expenses amounted to $23.4 billion (9.7 percent); and
  • other crash-related costs, such as insurance administration and legal fees, accounted for the remaining 37.2 billion (15.4 percent) [USDOT NHTSA 2015b].

If averaged across the U.S. population in the study year, motor vehicle crashes cost nearly $784 per person in 2010. When factoring in the $594 billion in comprehensive costs from the loss of life, pain, and injuries, the cost of 2010 motor vehicle crashes totaled about $836 billion. Of this total, economic costs represent 29 percent and lost quality of life represent 71 percent [USDOT NHTSA 2015b].

Motorcycles accounted for less than 1 percent of the vehicle-miles traveled but 14 percent of highway fatalities in 2010, largely due to the lack of protection available to occupants of other highway vehicles and the increase in motorcycle vehicles-miles traveled. Per vehicle-mile of travel, a motorcyclist was about 30 times more likely than a passenger car occupant to die in crash and 5 times more likely to be injured. In 2010 motorcycle crashes cost $12.9 billion in economic impacts and $66 billion in comprehensive costs. Compared to other motor vehicle crashes, these costs are disproportionately caused by fatalities and serious injuries [USDOT NHTSA 2015b].

Selected Contributing Factors

Human, environmental, and vehicle factors contribute to transportation crashes. Human factors are the most common cause and involve driver errors or risky behaviors, such as speeding, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while distracted, or while fatigued. Environmental factors include roadway design (e.g., narrow lanes, no shoulders), roadway hazards (e.g., utility poles at the side of the road, plants or branches blocking views, and potholes), and operating conditions (e.g., wet roads). Vehicle factors include equipment- and maintenance-related failures (e.g., tire separations and worn out parts) [GAO 2003].

In 2013 one or more (driver-related) human factors were recorded for 70.9 percent of the drivers of passenger vehicles (cars, vans, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles) involved in single-vehicle fatal crashes and 51.6 percent of the passenger vehicle drivers in multi-vehicle fatal crashes. For comparison, one or more (driver-related) human factors were recorded for 55.6 percent of the drivers of large trucks involved in single-vehicle fatal crashes and for 28.1 percent of the drivers of large trucks involved in multi-vehicle fatal crashes [USDOT FMCSA 2015a].

Speeding was the most frequently coded driver-related factor for both driver types, while distracted/inattentive driving was the second most common factor for large-truck drivers, and impairment (fatigue, alcohol, illness, etc.) was the second most coded factor for passenger vehicle drivers. In 2013 vehicle factors, most commonly truck tires, were recorded for 4.3 percent of the large trucks involved in fatal crashes and 3.4 percent of the passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes [USDOT FMCSA 2015a].

Alcohol Use

All 50 states and the District of Columbia limit Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent while operating a highway vehicle [USDHHS NIH NIAAA 2014]. Table 6-4 shows that about 10,100 people were killed in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes in 2013. Figure 6-8 shows that over 6,500 (64.7 percent) were drivers with BACs of  0.08 or higher, about 1,600 were passengers of an impaired driver, nearly 1,200 were occupants of other vehicles (27.0 percent), and more than 800 were pedestrians or other nonoccupants (8.3 percent) [USDOT NHTSA 2014c]. A combination of awareness, educational, and enforcement efforts (e.g., the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign and sobriety checkpoints) has helped to raise awareness [USDOT NHTSA 2014b].

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the legal drinking age of 21 years [USDHHS NIH NIAAA 2014]. As previously mentioned, motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens aged 16 to 20 years; alcohol-impaired driving was a contributing factor in 17.2 percent of fatal crashes involving drivers aged 16 to 20 in 2013. In 2013, 666 drivers age 16 to 20 with a BAC of 0.08 or higher were killed in alcohol- impaired crashes. In 2013, 31 percent of total traffic fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher [USDOT NHTSA 2014a]. Alcohol involvement either by the driver or the pedestrian was reported in 49 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes in 2013 [USDOT NHTSA 2015d].

In 2013 alcohol-impairment was listed as a contributing factor in 305 boating accidents, 94 fatalities, and 250 boating injuries; it was listed as the primary factor in 16.8 percent of deaths [USDHS USCG 2014]. As of Jan. 1, 2014, 47 states and the District of Columbia limit BAC to 0.08 percent for operators of recreational boats. The remaining four states, Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Wyoming, all have a 0.10 percent standards [USDHHS NIH NIAAA 2014].

Distraction and Fatigue

In 2013 about 2,900 fatal crashes and an estimated 284,000 motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. That year distracted driving accounted for 9.7 percent of fatal crashes, 17.9 percent of injury crashes, and 15.2 percent of all property damage only crashes involving a motor vehicle (table 6-5). Those 20 to 29 years of age accounted for the largest share (27.0 percent) of distracted driving crashes [USDOT NHTSA 2015c]. Figure 6-9 shows the trend on the percent of distracted driving related highway fatalities and injuries.

Although many activities (e.g., cellphone use, eating, sipping coffee, smoking, grooming, adjusting a radio) are distracting to drivers and pedestrians, cell phone usage and texting have received the most attention as these devices have attained nearly universal usage in the last few years. Distraction-affected crashes involving cell phones increased from 5.2 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent in 2013 [USDOT NHTSA 2015c].

According to a 2012 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey, 88.5 percent of licensed drivers reported that they considered drivers talking on cell phones to be a “somewhat” or “very” serious risk to their personal safety. In addition, 95.7 percent of respondents considered text messaging or emailing behind the wheel risky. Further, 90.3 percent of respondents believe that distracted drivers are “somewhat” or a “much bigger” problem compared to responses given 3 years earlier [AAA 2013]. Figure 6-10 shows the 14 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit drivers’ use of handheld cell phones; and the 43 states plus the District of Columbia that ban texting while driving.

Distracted driving by commercial motor vehicle drivers was a contributing factor in 5.9 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2013 [USDOT FMCSA 2015a]. Distracted driving is not just limited to motor vehicles, distracted vehicle operators are found in all modes of transportation, including airline pilots, bus drivers, train engineers, and tugboat operators [NTSB 2014b]. Operator inattention is first among the primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents, contributing to 14.0 percent of recreational boating accidents, 10.2 percent of related fatalities, and 14.2 percent of injuries [USDHS USCG 2014].

In 2013 drowsy and fatigued driving was a factor for 1.6 percent of drivers and motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes, down from 2.8 percent in 2012. Steps have been taken to reduce the risk. Distraction/inattention was the second most common driver-related factor, contributing to 5.9 percent of fatal crashes, involving large trucks. In addition, truck driver impairment (e.g. fatigue, drugs/alcohol, illness, etc.) was a factor in 3.8 percent of fatal crashes [USDOT FMCSA 2015a].

Lives Saved by Occupant Protection Equipment

When properly used, safety devices significantly reduce the risk of death or serious injury. NHTSA estimated that almost 16,900 lives were saved on the highways in 2013— up from about 7,500 in 1990—by occupant protection devices, including seat belts, frontal air bags, child restraints, and motorcycle helmets, as shown in table 6-6. Seat belts saved almost 12,600, frontal air bags about 2,400, child restraints almost 300, and DOT- compliant motorcycle helmets more than 1,600 lives in 2013 (table 6-6).

Another 3,500 lives could have been saved had these devices been used universally—an estimated 2,800 more lives could have been saved if seats belts were used 100 percent of the time and about 715 more from 100 percent use of DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets [USDOT NHTSA 2015a]. In total, vehicle safety technology (e.g., advanced safety technologies such as airbags, stability control, and collision warning systems, as well as preventing motorists from driving under the influence) can help prevent impending crashes by alerting drivers to dangers or helping the driver recover control of a vehicle [KAHANE 2015].

Despite such estimates, many people choose not to use seat belts or helmets. Eighty-seven percent of occupants of cars, vans, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) used safety belts in 2013, up from 71 percent in 2000 and 85 percent in 2010. In 2013 vans and sport utility vehicles occupants had the highest seat belt usage at 90 percent, and pickup trucks occupants had the lowest at 78 percent (table 6-7).

DOT-compliant helmets are an effective safeguard, reducing the risk of dying in a motorcycle crash by 37 percent. Moreover, wearing a helmet reduces the need for emergency medical care, hospitalization, intensive care, rehabilitation, and long-term care following crashes involving a motorcycle [NTSB 2010]. Overall usage of DOT- compliant helmets by motorcyclists stood at 60 percent in 2013, down from 71 percent in 2000 (table 6-7). Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have a universal helmet law, 28 states have a partial law covering certain riders and passengers (e.g., those under the age of 18), and 3 states (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) have no motorcycle helmet law (figure 6-11). In 2014, 89 percent of riders wore DOT-compliant helmets in states that required helmet use, while 48 percent of riders wore DOT-compliant helmets in states that do not require their use [USDOT NHTSA 2014c]. By 1975, 47 states and the District of Columbia had adopted universal helmet use laws, which required motorcycle helmets for all riders. However, many states repealed such laws in the following years after the adoption of helmet laws as a prerequisite for attaining Federal highway construction funds was withdrawn in 1975 [COSGROVE 2007].

Most states require mandatory recreational boating education and safety training courses, but eight states do not (Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Maine, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming). Boater education helps reduce the risk of boating accidents and death [NTSB 2013], and about 42.6 percent of U.S. boat owners have taken a boating safety course [USDHS USCG 2013]. In 2013, 89.3 percent of boating deaths took place on boats operated by someone who was not known to have received boating safety education [USDHS USCG 2014].

Drowning accounted for 71.1 percent of all fatal boating accidents in 2013. Of these, 82.4 percent of victims were not wearing a life jacket [USDHS USCG 2013]. As of January 2013, 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had laws or regulations requiring children to wear life jackets [NTSB 2013].

Traffic Safety Enforcement

Traffic safety enforcement promotes good driving habits (e.g., wearing a safety belt) and discourages unsafe behaviors (e.g., impaired driving) [USDOT NHTSA 2014b]. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011 about 10.2 percent of the Nation’s 212.3 million drivers were stopped by police while operating a motor vehicle, 5.3 percent of drivers were ticketed, 3.4 percent were given a verbal or written warning, and 1.4 percent were allowed to proceed with no enforcement action taken [USDOJ BJS 2013].

Speeding was cited, as the leading reason by far for the traffic stop, accounting for 46.1 percent, followed by vehicle defects (e.g, broken tail light) with 14.1 percent. Males were more likely to be stopped and ticketed than females, accounting for 58.5 percent of ticketed drivers. Drivers who were 25 to 34 years of age accounted for about 22.4 percent of stopped drivers, which is the highest percentage among all age groups [USDOJ BJS 2013]. However, this age group accounts for only 13.7 percent of vehicle-miles traveled [USDOT FHWA NHTS 2009].

In 2013, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement agencies across the country made an estimated 1.2 million arrests for driving under the influence. Males accounted for three out of four DUI arrests [USDOJ FBI 2013]. Studies have shown sobriety checkpoints are an effective countermeasure to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, saving an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 lives annually [USDHHS CDC NCI 2011].

Commercial Motor Vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a mission to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving the Nation’s approximately 503,000 interstate freight carriers1, 13,000 interstate buses, and 16,000 interstate hazardous material carriers [USDOT FMCSA 2015b]. FMCSA issued over 20,500 warning letters in 2014 to commercial motor carriers whose safety data showed a lack of compliance with motor carrier safety regulations and whose safety performance had fallen to an unacceptable level [USDOT FMCSA 2014]. Over 3.4 million roadside inspections were conducted in fiscal year 2014 (table 6-8). Vehicle violations put 20.4 percent of inspected vehicles out-of- service, while driver violations put 5.1 percent out-of-service, which commonly include hours-of-service noncompliance. Vehicle violations outnumbered driver violations 1.4 to 1, which commonly include defective lights, worn tires, or brake defects. Such violations must be corrected before the driver or vehicle can return to service.

Hazardous Materials Transportation

Transporting hazardous materials requires special precautions, handling, and packaging. There are specialized safety regulations, and standards, and reporting systems in place for pipelines, rail, highway, air, and marine vehicles that transport hazardous materials. These special requirements recognize that incidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials can affect the environment in addition to potentially risking injury and death. Table 6-9 shows more than 17,000 hazardous materials incidents in 2014, excluding pipeline. Hazardous materials shipments by mode and hazard class are discussed in chapter 3. Only 1.9 percent of these incidents are vehicle related with the remaining 98.1 percent related to other incidents, such as chemical spills from package failure or lithium ion and metal battery fires.

In 2014 less than 2 percent of hazardous materials transportation incidents were the result of an accident (e.g., vehicular crash or train derailment). Almost 90 percent of incidents related to the movement of hazardous materials occur on highways or in truck terminals. Most hazardous materials incidents occur because of human error or package failure, particularly during loading and unloading.

Table 6-10 provides a summary of the over 700 hazardous liquid-related and gas-related pipeline incidents reported in 2014, which resulted in 19 fatalities, 96 injuries, and more than $310 million in property damage, down from $1.5 billion. Hazardous liquid accounts for about half the incidents and the majority of the property damage, down from $1.1 billion in 2010. Nearly 47,000 barrels of hazards liquids were spilled in 2014, of which 48.4 percent was recovered. Gas distribution accounts for the majority of the fatalities and injuries. Oil spills from pipelines and railroad tanker cars are discussed in more detail in chapter 7.

Statistics show that the U.S. transportation system has become safer over the past few decades, even as use increases. This improvement is true across all modes. However, despite this progress, transportation remains a leading cause of death and injury each year. To continue the reduction in the number of deaths and injuries, USDOT has established safety improvement as its top priority. As part of these efforts, several agencies within the department have established data programs to gauge the safety performance of the transportation system, and new data programs to identify potential risk factors (box 6-D).


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1 Most of these are independent truckers or small trucking firms.