Highlights from the 50th Edition of National Transportation Statistics

The National Transportation Statistics (NTS) is a collection of transportation data first published in November 1971. This year is its 50th publication and commemorative editions are available from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The NTS is a unique collection of transportation statistics going beyond surface transportation and including all sorts of topics, including air travel, water travel, government finances, and emissions. There’s a lot to potentially dive into, and this post highlights three datasets that tend to take a longer view than data presented elsewhere on data.bikeleague.org or which otherwise highlight sometimes difficult to compile data.

Occupant Fatalities by Vehicle Type and Nonoccupant Fatalities

This data shows how over time the types of vehicles that people are killed in has changed, with large trucks emerging as the most common vehicle type in which people are killed. Over the last decade, the rise in pedestrian fatalities has made walking the second most common circumstance for people killed in traffic violence - after occupants of light trucks. Many experts point to light trucks playing a critical role in the increase in pedestrian deaths because light trucks are more likely to injure or kill pedestrians.

Motor Vehicle Fatalities by Highway Functional System

This data shows a dramatic increase in traffic deaths on urban arterial roadways, and several other types of urban roadways. Urban arterial roadways often have higher speed limits, more travel lanes, and other features that make them deadly for people biking and walking. One analysis of pedestrian death “hot spots” found that: “Nearly all (97%) were multilane roadways, with 70% requiring pedestrians to cross five or more lanes. More than three-quarters had speed limits of 30 mph or higher, and 62% had traffic volumes exceeding 25,000 vehicles per day.“

Occupants Killed in Fatal Crashes by Posted Speed Limit

This data is specifically about vehicle occupants and does not include people outside of vehicles. This may be due to how speed limits are reported in crash reports, because “posted speed limit” is a vehicle attribute in the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) which is promoted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for more uniform crash reporting. Higher speeds tend to lead to higher deaths, because deaths occur when people cannot absorb the forces of a crash without serious injuries to bones, organs, or other critical body parts and higher speeds create higher acceleration or deceleration in a crash. No data is available on the prevalence of different posted speed limits to provide fatality rates.