By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP
he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) 2011 crash data highlight a number of milestones.
- In 2011, the United States recorded the fewest traffic fatalities in 63 years: 32,367 deaths in 2011 compared to 30,246 in 1949.1
- Highway fatalities declined 26 percent between 2005 and 2011.2
- The 32,367 people killed on U.S. highways in 2011 represented a 1.9 percent decrease from the 32,999 who died on U.S. roadways in 2010 and marked the sixth consecutive year that highway deaths declined.3
- The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled achieved a historic low of 1.10 in 2011.
Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities, which include those killed in passenger cars and in light trucks, declined overall 4.6 percent in 2011 over 2010, sparing 1,020 more lives in 2011 than in 2010. Additionally, fewer people lost their lives in both rural and urban crashes, at intersections, and in roadway departures.
Thirty-six states recorded fewer fatalities in 2011 than in 2010. Of those, five states logged more than 50 fewer traffic deaths: Connecticut (-100), North Carolina (-93), Tennessee (-86), Ohio (-64), and Michigan (-53).
Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities decreased 2.5 percent in 2011 and dropped in terms of every vehicle type, except motorcycles. It is noteworthy, however, that alcohol-impaired collision deaths involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations equal to or greater than .08 grams per deciliter decreased from 49 percent of total traffic fatalities in 1982 to 33 percent of them in 1994 and essentially have remained stagnant since 1994,4 accounting for 31 percent of total traffic deaths in 2011. While the number of persons killed in these crashes has declined, the lack of a decrease in the percentage of these crashes in 18 years remains an ongoing challenge.
The NHTSA report also presented other challenges. For example, large-truck occupant deaths increased 20 percent in 2011 over 2010, following substantial declines in both 2008 and 2009.5 NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have joined forces to gain greater insight into this significant increase.6 However, drivers of large trucks registered the greatest decline in terms of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal collisions, by vehicle type, with a 16 percent decrease.
In 2011, motorcyclist fatalities continued to be problematic, accounting for 14 percent of the year’s traffic deaths and representing—with an 8.6 percent increase—the only category of driver by vehicle type to increase alcohol-impaired crash involvement. Aside from 2009, these fatalities increased over the previous 12-month period each year since 1997.7 The 40–49-year-old age group was the only age group of motorcyclists to register a decline in 2011 over 2010.
Deaths in distraction-affected crashes increased by 1.9 percent in 2011 over 2010; ironically, the same percentage as total fatalities decreased in 2011 over 2010. In 2011, 3,331 people died in these collisions.
Occupant restraint use remained virtually the same in 2010 and 2011. Fifty-two percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants were unrestrained overall, with about 60 percent of them unrestrained at night (between 6:00 p.m. and 5:59 a.m.).
As impressive as many of the statistics for 2011 are, law enforcement officers must never forget that each statistic represents flesh and blood: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a neighbor, or a coworker. Hopefully, a human face—rather than a stark number—will motivate officers to continue their professional efforts to save lives and reduce deaths and injuries.♦
1Unless otherwise noted, the statistics in this column were derived from NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), “2011 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, December 2012, DOT HS 811 701, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811701.pdf (accessed February 26, 2013).
2NHTSA, “New NHTSA Analysis Shows 2011 Traffic Fatalities Declined by Nearly Two Percent,” press release, December 10, 2012, http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/2012/New+NHTSA+Analysis+Shows+2011+Traffic+Fatalities+Declined+by+Nearly+Two+Percent (accessed February 27, 2013).
3 “2010 Data: Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts, June 2012, DOT HS 811 630, 3, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811630.pdf (accessed February 26, 2013).
4Deborah A.P. Hersman to Joseph A. Farrow and Aaron D. Kennard, November 21, 2012, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Recommendation, H-12-37, 1, http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/recletters/2012/H-12-037.pdf (accessed February 27, 2013); NTSB, Wrong-Way Driving, Highway Special Investigation Report, NTSB/SIR-12/01 (December 11, 2012), 55, http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/safetystudies/SIR1201.pdf (accessed February 27, 2013).
5NHTSA, “2010 Data: Overview,” 3.
6NHTSA, “New NHTSA Analysis Shows 2011 Traffic Fatalities Declined by Nearly Two Percent.”
7Ibid.; NHTSA, “Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts 2000, DOT HS 809 329, 2, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/2000ovrfacts.pdf (accessed February 26, 2013).
Please cite as:
Richard J. Ashton, "Highway Fatalities Continued to Decline in 2011," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 60.