The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Center for Statistics and Analysis has released new fatality data for 2009. While it’s still hard to fathom that more than 33,000 people were killed in our streets last year, the trend is in the right direction. The total number of traffic fatalities dropped 9.7% from 37,423 to 33,808. Cyclist fatalities dropped somewhat faster: a 12% decline from 718 in 2008 to 630 in 2009. One disappointment is that pedestrian fatalities declined at a slower rate than the others, lowering 7.3% from 4,414 to 4,092.
It’s encouraging that fatalities are down, but what was the cause? NHTSA published a table that includes a line for the fatality rate, showing fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travels. This line shows that fatalities are down, despite a slight increase in vehicle miles traveled, VMT. (This paragraph was edited to correct an earlier error.)
So, what about cyclists? Once again we run in data collection problems. While the DOT carefully estimates auto VMT, we are still stuck with feeble data on bicycling rates — and none have been released for 2009. Bicycle commuting jumped up in 2008. Was that a spike or did the trend continue into 2009? If the increase continued, then the fatality rate would have lowered and that would be good news. Stay tuned for the future release of the American Community Survey commuter data for 2009.
Injuries, based on estimates from the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES), declined for pedestrians to a statistically significant degree, but not for cyclists. So why are we seeing a decrease in cyclist fatalities but not in injuries?
League Policy Director
Flusche joined the League in April 2009 and has a B.A. in history from Syracuse University and a Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in public policy analysis from New York University.