In 1990, there were approximately 184 million registered motor vehicles in the U.S. and vehicle ownership rate was close to 0.74 vehicles per capita. Since then, except for the year 1992, the
number of registered vehicles had grown steadily to over 259 million in 2008, with an ownership rate exceeding 0.85 vehicles per capita. Even though the number of registered vehicles was down for
years 2009 and 2010, the latest 265.6 million registered vehicles for 2012 indicates the total number of vehicle registered is on the rise again and has surpassed the high reached in 2008.
Travel as measured by vehicle mile travelled (VMT) indicated that in 1990, total VMT was approximately 2 144 362 million miles; and by 2007, VMT reached its peak of 3 031 124 million
miles. From 1990 to 2007, VMT had grown at an annual average compound growth rate of approximately 1.02%. For year 2008, total VMT was down to 2 976 528 million miles. The latest 2012
VMT data, which was 2 954 394 million miles, is still below the 2007 peak.
Change in the number of fatalities and injury crashes (1990-2012)
In the first decade of the 21st century, the United States experienced more than 40 000 deaths and more than 2 500 000 injuries on the Nation’s roadways. Roadway crashes generally are the leading
cause of death for Americans for every age, from 3 through 34.
Between 1990 and 2012, the number of fatalities decreased by 25%; however, most of the progress was achieved from 2006 through 2011. During the 1990s, there was little progress in terms of
reductions in the number of casualties. Traffic fatalities have been declining steadily since reaching a near-term peak in 2005, and the reduction accelerated in 2008 and 2009. The magnitude of decline
decreased in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, the US experienced the first increase in fatalities since 2005, and from 2011 to 2012 there was a 3.3 per cent increase.
The reduction in fatalities in 2008-2011 may be partly explained by a reduction in distance travelled
(vehicle miles travelled lower than in 2007), as a consequence of the economic recession; but the overall decline in fatalities has been much greater than the reduction in traffic volume, thus assuming
that the recent safety measures promoted by the US DoT have been effective. The increase in 2012 cannot be attributed to a single factor. However, one note of interest is that of the increase of 1082 fatalities in 2012, with 72% of the increase occurring in the first quarter of the year. That quarter also happened to be the warmest first quarter on record in the US.
The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fell to a historic low of 1.10 in 2011. In 2012 the rate was 1.13.
In 2012, the death rate expressed in terms of deaths per 100 000 population, was 10.69 ‒ a 2.6% increase from 2011.
Between 1990 and 2012, the death rate, expressed in terms of deaths per 100 000 population, decreased by 40%; while the risks (in terms of deaths per billion veh-km) declined by 45%.
Since 1990, all road users except motorcycle riders have benefited from the improvement in road safety. Motorcycle rider fatalities (incl. mopeds) increased by more than 50% between 1990 and 2012.
Between 1990 and 2012, the United States experienced a marked reduction of almost 50% in passenger car occupant fatalities. A further reduction in passenger car occupant fatalities is expected
with increased availability of front and side airbags, electronic stability control, safety-belt use, use of age-appropriate child safety seats and a continued reduction in alcohol- and drug-impaired driving.
Over the same period, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes decreased by 27% and 16% respectively.
Over the past ten years, data show that the composition of fatalities among road users has shifted.
The primary change occurred because of the decrease in passenger car occupant fatalities from 2000 to 2012 — from 20 699 fatalities in 2000, to 12 271 in 2012. However, there has been a marked
change in composition of road user fatalities for motorcyclists and pedestrians. Fatalities for these two groups combined increased from 2000 to 2012 — from 7 660 to 9 660 — and they now make up 29%
of fatalities compared to 18% of fatalities ten years ago.
As noted, motorcyclist fatalities have been increasing over the previous years. Fatalities fell sharply in 2009, along with a sharp decrease in roadway fatalities overall. However, since that drop, the number of people killed on motorcycles (including mopeds) has resumed the increase that had been occurring since the late 1990s.
Looking at the age of the individuals killed during motor vehicle crashes, all fatality rates have dropped since 1990. Young people aged 18 to 20 had long maintained the highest fatality rate per
population, but for the first time in 2010, this age group fell to the second highest fatality rate, replaced by 21 to 24 year olds. Another decline in fatality rates can be seen (in the chart) for 15 to
17 year olds – once the third highest rate is now the fifth highest rate.
The Department has been working diligently to address the safety risk of young drivers. This group, lacking the experience acquired over time, often pose a greater safety risk on the road. However,
over the years, with the attention to young drivers and the introduction of graduated driver licensing, the fatalities associated with young drivers has decreased, as can be seen below. In 2003, there were 8 514 fatalities associated with young driver (16-20 years old) crashes as compared to 4 565 fatalities in young driver crashes in 2012.
Whereas there was an increase in most areas from 2011 to 2012, data show a decrease in the number of fatalities occurring on motorways in 2012.