For many people, the highways in the United States today are much safer than in decades past, but a handful of statistics suggest there is still a ways to go to make things more secure for everyone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's freshly released 2013 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) study shows a total of 32,719 deaths on the roads for that year. That's a drop of 3.1 percent from 2012 and indicates a decrease of around 25 percent since 2004. Injuries are also on the downswing with the numbers showing 2.313 million people hurt, a 2.1 percent reduction year-over-year.

To make the stats look even rosier, the fatality rate of 1.10 people per 100 million vehicle miles traveled ties 2011 as the lowest number ever recorded in NHTSA's annual study. The agency's figures go back to 1964 with a death rate of 5.39 per 100 million VMT.

While these figures are for the road as a whole, when digging into more specific demographics you start to see a couple of warning signs mixed with the overall positive numbers. Deaths in passenger cars are down 3 percent to 21,132 people, the lowest reported statistic since 1975. Big rigs and motorcycles fatalities are also lower for the first time since 2009 by 0.9 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

While that's certainly good news, bicyclist deaths are on the rise. Fatalities are up 1.2 percent to the highest figures since 2006, and this isn't the only study showing such results for those who prefer pedal power. An earlier one found their loss of life up 16 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Pedestrian deaths are also in a weird place. Fatalities are down 1.7 percent to 4,735 people for 2013, but that figure is still 15 percent higher than the record low from 2009, according to NHTSA.

One of the biggest hazards to people on the road continues to be drunk drivers. They are responsible for 10,706 deaths in 2013, a 2.5 percent reduction, but that still accounts for over 30 percent of the deadly incidents that occur. Read below for NHTSA's entire announcement of this year's study or download the full text in PDF format, here.
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U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Decline in Traffic Fatalities in 2013

NHTSA 50-14
Friday, December 19, 2014

Roadway deaths fall nearly 25 percent in a decade, fatality rates at a historic low

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today released the 2013 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data that shows a 3.1 percent decrease from the previous year and a nearly 25 percent decline in overall highway deaths since 2004. In 2013, 32,719 people died in traffic crashes. The estimated number of people injured in crashes also declined by 2.1 percent.

"With the holidays upon us, I give thanks that more of our friends and family are with us this year because of the broad partnership of safety-driven individuals and organizations who have joined us in making our roads safer for everyone," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Safety truly is a shared responsibility and we've all got more work to do in the New Year to keep more families together – that's my resolution to the American people."

Earlier this year, Secretary Foxx announced grants totaling approximately $1.6 million for public education and enforcement initiatives to improve pedestrian safety as part of the Department's Everyone Is a Pedestrian campaign to help communities combat the rising number of pedestrian deaths and injuries that have occurred from 2009 through 2012. Earlier this week, the Department kicked off the annual "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" holiday crackdown on drunk driving by unveiling a new mobile app to help people who have been drinking get a safe ride home.

The more than three percent decline in traffic fatalities continues a long-term downward trend leading to the fatality rate matching a historic low – 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2013, down from 1.14 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2012. Other key statistics include:

The number of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes declined by 3 percent to 21,132 – the lowest number on record dating back to 1975. Passenger vehicles include passenger cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks.

Large truck occupant (0.9 percent) and motorcyclist (6.4 percent) fatalities declined for the first time since 2009.

Pedestrian fatalities declined by 1.7 percent to 4,735, but remains 15 percent higher than the record low of 4,109 pedestrian fatalities in 2009.

Pedalcyclist fatalities increased by 1.2 percent, the highest since 2006.

The estimated number of people injured in crashes decreased across all person types in 2013 when compared to 2012, with declines among passenger vehicle occupants (2.2 percent), large truck occupants (4 percent), motorcyclists (5.4 percent), pedestrians (13 percent), and pedalcyclists (2 percent).

The number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes fell to 3,154 in 2013 from 3,380 in 2012, a 6.7 percent decrease. However, the estimated number of people injured in distraction-affected crashes (424,000) increased by 1 percent compared to 2012.

"Almost 90 people on average lose their lives each day – and more than 250 are injured every hour – due to drunk driving, not wearing a seatbelt, and the many other factors associated with traffic crashes," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. "As we work each day at NHTSA, these are tragic reminders of the importance of our efforts and how we must build on our many successes and continue to work even harder to protect the American public."

Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased by 2.5 percent in 2013 to 10,076, accounting for 31 percent of the overall fatalities in 2013.

Thirty-four states experienced reductions in overall traffic fatalities, led by Ohio (132 fewer fatalities), Kentucky (108 fewer), Pennsylvania (102 fewer), South Carolina (96 fewer) and Arkansas (77 fewer).

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) contains data for a census of fatal traffic crashes within the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To be included in FARS, a crash must involve a motor vehicle traveling on a trafficway customarily open to the public and must result in the death of at least one person (occupant of a vehicle or a non-motorist) within 30 days of the crash. FARS was conceived, designed, and developed in 1975 by NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) to provide an overall measure of highway safety, to help identify traffic safety problems, to suggest solutions, and to help provide an objective basis to evaluate the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety standards and highway safety programs.

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