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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1. Statement of the problem." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25590.
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Page 16
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1. Statement of the problem." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25590.
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Page 17

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Page 1 Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012 NCHPR 17-67 Chapter 1. Statement of the problem The research objective, as outlined in the original Request for Proposal, is to “provide a multidisciplinary analysis of the relative influence of the types of factors that contributed to the recent national decline in the number of highway fatalities and rates in the United States.” Between 2005 and 2011, peak to trough, the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. declined by 11,031, from 43,510 in 2005 to 32,479 in 2011. This decline amounted to a reduction in traffic-related deaths by 25.4%, by far the greatest decline over a comparable period in the last 30 years. Figure 1-1 shows counts of annual traffic deaths from 2001 through 2012, the period that is considered in this project. The figure shows that the number of traffic fatalities remained relatively stable over roughly the first half of the period, from 2001 to 2007, varying from 42,196 in 2001 to 43,510 in 2005. There were 41,259 deaths in 2007, which is within the relatively narrow range observed for the preceding six years. The number declined to 37,423 in 2008 and continued to decline to reach a low of 32,479 traffic fatalities. The pattern in Figure 1-1 suggests two processes. In the first part of the period, from 2001 to 2007, the number of traffic fatalities was relatively stable. The number averaged about 42,600, and varied by ±515. In the second period, from 2008 to 2012, the number of fatalities dropped dramatically to 32,479 in 2011, a decline of 8,780 traffic deaths, or about 21% from 2007. The number of traffic deaths increased in 2012, and in fact, subsequent years have seen increases as well. At the time this report was prepared, the number of fatalities has climbed to 35,092 in 2015 (NHTSA 2016b).

Page 2 Figure 1-1 Traffic fatalities, 2001-2012 The goal of this project is to identify the factors that contributed to the substantial decline in traffic fatalities between 2008 and 2011.

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Between 2005 and 2011, the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. declined by 11,031, from 43,510 in 2005 to 32,479 in 2011. This decline amounted to a reduction in traffic-related deaths of 25.4 percent, by far the greatest decline over a comparable period in the last 30 years.

Historically, significant drops in traffic fatalities over a short period of time have coincided with economic recessions. Longer recessions have coincided with deeper declines in the number of traffic fatalities. This report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, NCHRP Research Report 928: Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012, provides an analysis that identifies the specific factors in the economic decline that affected fatal crash risk, while taking into account the long-term factors that determine the level of traffic safety.

A key insight into the analysis of the factors that produced the sharp drop in traffic fatalities was that the young contributed disproportionately to the drop-off in traffic fatalities. Of the reduction in traffic fatalities from 2007 to 2011, people 25-years-old and younger accounted for nearly 48 percent of the drop, though they were only about 28 percent of total traffic fatalities prior to the decline. Traffic deaths among people 25-years-old and younger dropped substantially more than other groups. Young drivers are known to be a high-risk group and can be readily identified in the crash data. Other high-risk groups also likely contributed to the decline but they cannot be identified as well as age can.

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