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Road Traffic Fatalities By Mode

Indicator Description

Road traffic fatalities by mode measures the rate of fatalities from traffic collisions involving of 1) a driver or passenger in a vehicle that is either moving or parked, 2) a bicyclist, or 3) a pedestrian. Data on fatalities come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).  The THT uses a 5-year average of data from 2008-2012. Population data come from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates.

Related Strategies

Transportation and Health Connection

Road traffic fatalities by mode reflect a direct relationship between transportation and public health. This measure allows communities to identify mode-specific issues related to safety and transportation. That, in turn, helps them implement evidence-based interventions and implement and evaluate promising practices tailored by mode.

In the United States, 32,719 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2013 (U.S. DOT, 2013). Young people and minorities have a higher risk for pedestrian fatalities (Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009), but older adults are at most risk of dying if they are hit (U.S. DOT, 2012). This is mainly because older adults are more susceptibility to injury and medical complications and not an increased tendency to get into roadway crashes (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2013).

Motor vehicle crashes and traffic fatalities are public health and economic concerns. At an estimated $871 billion in economic loss and societal harm, the price tag for crashes is a heavy burden for U.S. residents. This includes $277 billion in economic costs and $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life from injuries (U.S. DOT, 2014).

Road traffic fatalities are not only affected by the safety of driving, but also by the rate of vehicle miles traveled. In 2012, the rate of injuries and deaths by motor vehicles increased, but so did the number of miles driven. Additionally, during this same time period, the numbers of traffic-related pedestrian and bicyclist deaths increased but this may be related to more people walking and cycling, especially in urban areas. Therefore, this indicator should be carefully considered along with other indicators and contextual conditions to properly identify trends in safety over time (U.S. DOT, 2012).

About the Data

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) measures any crash involving a motor vehicle traveling on a public road that results in the death of at least one person within 30 days of the crash. Data are filtered for only cases involving fatalities and were queried to include “person types” (i.e., vehicle occupants, bicyclists, pedestrians). Data are also collected by mode, including motorcyclists and non-motorists (pedestrians and bicyclists), as well as other statistics such as VMT, population, registered vehicles, licensed drivers, select demographic characteristics (age and gender). All of the data are available at the state level.

Moving Forward

Although road traffic fatalities by mode may not directly reflect the safety of driving, it is possible to use this indicator to understand the relationship between the different modes of transportation and make comparisons with state laws aimed at protecting public health. This indicator also provides additional insight into who is traveling and who is impacted by motor vehicle fatalities. Trends in this indicator across time can overlap with changes in laws. For example, the increase in motorcycle deaths in 2012 overlapped with the decrease in helmet laws (Hedlund, 2011). These trends are useful for decision makers to reflect the importance of increasing health- and safety-related laws to make transportation safer for all users. Road traffic fatalities are preventable and improvements to infrastructure, policy and enforcement, as well as efforts to address the users most at risk may result in significant progress for improving transportation and health outcomes.


Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention; American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy statement-Pedestrian safety. Pediatrics: 2009:124:802-12. *

Hedlund J. Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities by Date: 2011 Preliminary Data; 2011.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts 2013, Older people; 2013.  †

U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Motor Vehicle Crashes; 2013.

U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010; 2015.  

U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes as a Leading Cause of Death in the United States, 2008 and 2009; 2012.

* Indicates research that supports policies analyzed

† Indicates research that supports equity or vulnerable populations studied