NHTSA Reports Traffic Fatalities Back On the Rise

February 9, 2016

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their latest estimates of traffic fatalities from January to September 2015, showing a “steep” 9.3 percent increase in fatalities compared to the same time period in 2014. NHTSA says that it is “too soon to speculate” on the possible causes behind this increase.

With data collection efforts ongoing, the agency estimates that “26,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes” in the first nine months of 2015, which is an increase from 23,796 in 2014 within the same period. This increase in traffic fatalities is also reflected on a regional basis, ranging from 2 to 20 percent increase. The final data for 2014 and annual data for 2015 from NHTSA will be available late fall in 2016, with rates and percentages adjusted accordingly.

The agency also found an increase in the fatality rate, from 1.04 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in Jan-Sept 2014 to 1.10 fatalities in Jan-Sept 2015. NHTSA found that the third quarter, from July to September, was the fourth consecutive quarter with an increase in fatalities as well as an increase in the fatality rate. This contrasts with previous years, which showed a declining rate of fatalities starting in 2012.

The 2015 estimates follow a GAO report released last fall that examined pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and safety initiatives at the state and federal level. (ETW coverage of that report can be found here). Comparing numbers from 2004 to 2013, GAO found a total overall decrease in fatalities from 42,836 in 2014 to 32,719 in 2013 (a decrease of 24 percent) but an increase in the fatality rate. For pedestrians, the rate increased from 10.9 percent in 2004, compared to 14.5 percent in 2013. For cyclists, the rate was 1.7 percent in 2004, and increased to 2.3 percent in 2013.

While the recent NHTSA estimates do not disaggregate into pedestrians and cyclists, the GAO research mirrors NHTSA’s findings that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human factors. GAO found that multiple human factors contribute to traffic fatalities, such as drivers not looking out for pedestrians and cyclists, intoxication, and distraction due to cell phone use.

NHTSA has also launched a series of regional safety summits, focusing on unsafe behavior and human factors. NHTSA’s regional summits will add to a number of recent programs launched by U.S. DOT in the last two years. These programs include Safer Streets, Safer People and the Mayor’s Challenge (both from the Office of the Secretary) and a data collection pilot program from FHWA.

U.S. Highway Fatalities in the First Nine Months of Each Calendar Year

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
31,895 31,021 27,841 25,631 24,503 23,937 25,304 24,398 23,796 26,000


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