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2015 Traffic Fatalities Data Has Just Been Released: A Call to Action to Download and Analyze

2015 Traffic Fatalities Data Has Just Been Released: A Call to Action to Download and Analyze

This post is cross-posted at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.


That is the number of people who died on our nation’s highways in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015. Your neighbor driving to work. Your niece walking to the park. Your brother biking home. Every day, nearly 100 people die from vehicle-related accidents.

Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation is releasing an open data set that contains detailed, anonymized information about each of these tragic incidents. As the new data being released show, and as DOT reported earlier this summer, 2015 showed a marked increase in traffic fatalities nationwide. 

Traffic fatalities graphic 1

To be precise, 7.2% more people died in traffic-related accidents in 2015 than in 2014. This unfortunate data point breaks a recent historical trend of fewer deaths occurring per year.

Under the leadership of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, we’re doing two things differently this year.

One: We’re publishing the data through NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) three months earlier than last year. 

Two: We’re directly soliciting your help to better understand what these data are telling us. Whether you’re a non-profit, a tech company, or just a curious citizen wanting to contribute to the conversation in your local community, we want you to jump in and help us understand what the data are telling us.

Some key questions worth exploring:

  • How might improving economic conditions around the country change how Americans are getting around? What models can we develop to identify communities that might be at a higher risk for fatal crashes?
  • How might climate change increase the risk of fatal crashes in a community? 
  • How might we use studies of attitudes toward speeding, distracted driving, and seat belt use to better target marketing and behavioral change campaigns?
  • How might we monitor public health indicators and behavior risk indicators to target communities that might have a high prevalence of behaviors linked with fatal crashes (drinking, drug use/addiction, etc.)? What countermeasures should we create to address these issues?

A number of private sector firms and educational institutions have already committed to answer this call to action. They’re doing this though a number of mechanisms: by combining these new data with their own, hosting hackathons, and launching new analytical platforms. These commitments include:

  • StreetLight Data, a mobility analytics provider that transforms geospatial data from mobile devices into Metrics that describe travel patterns, is providing free access to their data sets, which describe driving patterns, in the vicinity of fatal crashes. Researchers and data scientists can request access to the data, which will be provided at no cost through the end of 2017. 
  • CARTO, a leader in location intelligence, an analytical platform for geospatial data, is making FARS data available to the public through their platform and allow researchers to combine data from other government and private sector sources. 
  • Mapbox, a mapping platform for developers, is developing interactive tools to help better educate citizens about fatal crashes that occur around them in their daily lives.  One example is that Mapbox will launch an application that uses the fatality analysis data along with their directions service to show crashes along a commute route over the last five years, along with contributing factors such as alcohol or excessive speed.
  • Waze, a free, real-time, traffic and navigation app, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to share data through the Connected Citizens Program. This free program empowers municipal leaders to harness real-time driver insights to improve congestion and make better informed planning decisions. 

From his first day in office, the President has been a leading voice to ensure that the transformative power of data and technology is used to help address some of our toughest challenges. The journey toward zero deaths on our roads will be a long one, but data will provide the guiding lights to take us there. 

DOT is aggressively seeking ways to improve safety on the roads. From our work with the auto industry to improve vehicle safety, to new solutions to behavioral challenges like drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving, we know we need to find novel solutions to old challenges. 

We’re also looking to accelerate technologies that may make driving safer, including connected and highly automated vehicles. 

Traffic fatalities graphic 2

But we need your help, too! Data Science is a team sport. 

We are calling on data scientists, public health experts, students and researchers — even if you have never thought about road safety before — to dive in to these data and help answer these important questions, especially on tough issues like pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. 

Start by downloading and playing with the data. Then share your insights and let us know what you find by sending us a note at opendata@dot.gov

We are excited to have you engaged and look forward to hearing from you.

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Really, overlay the progression of cell phones & usage to the traffic fatality data. The first I Phone was released June 2007, give it a year or two for other manufactures & net works to catch up, and now it is a mobile entertainment & social media device, which a large number of individuals find more important than focusing driving. Add in that car companies are advertising crash avoidance systems, focusing on driving no longer appears to be a concern of the average driver. Look out your windows, if you don't see someone texting while driving, your either blind, or living in a cell phone dead zone.

I suspect there is a correlation between the dramatic rise in opioid drug abuse and the rise in traffic fatalities. People on drugs make unsafe drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. I would encourage researchers to look into it. I will spend a little time looking into this if I get spare time.

This is one of the most serious problems in the United States. I have been a medical professional for forty years and drive on these dangerous streets daily. I live in Plant City, Florida which is directly on the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando. The dangerous, distracted driving is appalling and I would love to give you my input.

The obvious answer is that people are driving super huge SUVs and passenger trucks on roads designed 60 years ago for smaller cars. And, they are driving them much too fast. Increase lane width and shoulder width. Tax the sale of SUVs and passenger trucks to pay for improvements. Increase fines on speeding. Lower speed limits. Raise public awareness of how dangerous and selfish it is to speed.

One thing that jumps out, when looking at the raw numbers, fatalities fall after the price of oil spikes; when the price of gasoline increases dramatically people often drive slower, combine trips, and and don't drive as far - less time on the road at a safer speed.

This article shouldn't use the word "accidents." That perpetuates the idea that they can't be avoided. An article like this should definitely use the word "crashes."

Since our daily lives are full of distractions, and we can not multitask with more than one thing at a time, we need to ensure that cell phones are only able to be used before or when we exit a vehicle. Most new cell phones have NFC built in to transfer data from one device to another. What if a module was installed in a vehicle that would recognize someone entering the vehicle within 2 feet, and automatically turn on the phone via BlueTooth. It would not be "disengaged", until that person turns the vehicle off or exits said vehicle. I believe the technology exists today, and not something just for the future

Cycling instructor's should also teach driver's how to safely navigate around cyclists and pedestrians. Driver's should sit on a bicycle and experie how differently the road feels when you're not in a car. That cognitive association will go a long way towards reducing drivers blind spots. Your brain has a difficult time seeing what you don't understand. Mandatory Re-Education for drivers every 4 years. As people drive they become complacent. Re-Education would go a long way to end driver complacency.

Climate change?? Are you serious. Good Lord!

The total number of fatalities should be seen in context with the population, vehicles on the road, and miles travelled: 1975: 216-M people drove 2.4-Trillion miles in 138-M vehicles. 44,525 died. 2015: 320-M people drive 4.4-Trillion miles in 258-M vehicles. 35,092 died. 48% higher population drove 83% more miles in 87% more vehicles. But 21% fewer fatalities absolute, or 38% fewer fatalities by mile and 39% fewer fatalities per vehicle since 1975, a good trend. No need to panic. In average, we travel 340 miles less per year than in 1975, saving one tank of gas per year.

The word "accident" is used incorrectly, twice, in this post. NHTSA does not use the word "accident" in their reporting. They have a policy against using the word that has been in place since the 90's. Not all crashes are "accidents". Certainly intentional crashes such as road rage, murders and vehicular suicide are not "accidents". But criminal events such as drunk, drugged, distracted and high speed crashes should not be dismissed as "accidents". By policy, the AP no longer refers to negligent crashes as "accidents". These are crashes in which a person has made a decision to drink, a decision to drive drunk, a decision to break the law, a decision to endanger others. The tragic and predictable result of these intentional decisions should not be trivialized as "accidents". I am the Director of Highway Safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Please feel free to reach out to me to discuss why this post needs to be changed, and this wording edited. Thank you for your time. Jeff

As a former paramedic and geographic information systems analyst we need a bit more precise location data (lat/long), specifically better than coordinates rounded to the nearest whole number. Not a whole lot of solid spatial analytics can be done with that. Thank you!

Simple. Better implementation of Haddon’s Energy Damage and the Ten Counter Measure Strategies. An undivided highway should simply no longer exist. Run the theory against the data.

Independent research corroborates that distracted driving is a contributing factor to the increase in traffic-related accidents. However, it also reveals that "bad drivers" are a major factor. I don't think enough emphasis is placed on proper driver training/education and periodic refresher training. Improving drivers/driving is a genuine interest of mine...how can I get more directly involved?

Spend less money encouraging people to drive more miles.

Is there a deadline, or is it just open ended? Thanks

Enforce the law. Quit worrying about encroaching on a driver's rights. Scramble internet signals within the right of way of signalized intersections and known crash - prone areas.

Raise the gas tax to 400%

Texting and driving has got to stop. It's every bit as irresponsible as driving drunk and should be treated as such.

Headlights on full time.

There are several factors that are contributing to the increase in traffic fatalities, which are directly related to overall increases in traffic and accidents: Lack of Transportation Alternatives: - Since our society has focused on highway travel since the 60's, loss of support (federal, state) for a robust mass surface transportation system (e.g., intercity and intracity rail) has consequently transferred both passengers and freight to the roads. This naturally increases the amount of vehicles on the road. - Less funding for mass transit results in less passenger satisfaction (due to, e.g., delays or limited service), thus disincentivizing use of these systems and more traffic. Increase in Volume: - Because of limited public transportation, young people need to drive cars as they reach driving age, even if they would otherwise choose not to (flashy advertising of vehicles also plays a part). Thus, with each generation there is an exponential increase in the number of cars on the road, with no decrease in sight without some commitment to mass transportation. - The increase in traffic that leads to more accidents is obviously exacerbated by overdevelopment in what remains of land between urban areas, leading to sprawl that induces more traffic. Widening roads is not the answer, since that induces even more development and traffic. - Ease and lower cost of shipping by truck, as well as the increase in shipping from online retail, results in more trucks on the roads. This becomes especially problematic during rush hours. Distractions: - The increase of drivers using cellphones (even Bluetooth) results in distractions when they already should be paying all attention to operating what amounts to heavy machinery (and in the midst of hundreds of others). - This distraction also applies to food and beverages, the consumption of which is faciltitated by fast-food drive-thru windows and coffee retailers. - Psychologically, increases in traffic results in both increase in stress levels as well as driver's being more aggressive to attempt to reach their destinations. This naturally increases the risk of accidents. Other Factors: - More funding for roads and infrastructure results in more contruction that impacts traffic, and thus increasing the probability of accidents (including worker injuries). The fact that it typically takes months or years for one highway construction project to be completed adds to the problem. - Drivers in the U.S. do not seem to understand that the left lanes of highways are really passing lanes. By "hanging out" in the left lanes, drivers inhibit proper traffic flow, which increases congestion and risk of traffic accidents.

I am a biologist, but also a driver for almost 40 years and someone who is trained to observe patterns in the environment. A couple of issues seem to be worth noting when it comes to traffic safety. One is the preponderance of extremely large vehicles that are often carelessly driven. There seem to be more of these jumbo trucks on the road, and since they have more destructive power in an accident, the drivers should be required to have additional safety training. More drivers are also weaving in their lanes, as I'm sure others have noted, and is most likely from looking at their phones. We have all probably noticed people looking down instead of forward while driving. How do you communicate that no one has a right to put other lives at risk over a text message? We need to have a national conversation about this and consequences need to be serious. Drivers need to be confronted , fined etc. Leaders, parents, citizens need to express that this will not be tolerated. Thank you for your efforts and consideration, DW Kennedy West Richland, WA

Since the advent of cell phones traffic fatalities have gone down 25% Since the widespread laws banning use of cell phones fatalities have gone back up Maybe the phone use is not so bad

>StreetLight Data, a mobility analytics provider that transforms geospatial data from mobile devices into Metrics that describe travel patterns, is providing free access to their data sets, which describe driving patterns, in the vicinity of fatal crashes. Researchers and data scientists can request access to the data, which will be provided at no cost through the end of 2017. How do we request access to this data?

I'm trying!

In the same period that about 40,000 people were road-kill each year, Morgantown's Personal Rapid Transit network has delivered 110 million oil-free, injury-free passenger-miles. Radically safer transportation is practical.
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