New NHTSA Data – Driver Data Shows Threat Of Hit And Run To People Walking And Biking

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new data for 2021 in its Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST). has previously covered overall updates for bicyclist and pedestrian deaths, with both groups of people experiencing the highest levels of traffic deaths in forty or more years.

This post digs into some of the new data fields that NHTSA added to FIRST in its release of 2021 data, providing the potential for insights not previously possible without hardcore statistical analysis skills. The ability to access data through the FIRST query system allows more people the ability to understand the nature of traffic deaths, and potentially how we might work to stop them.

In total, 17 data elements were added to the query fields available in FIRST. Not all fields are available for all queries as users of FIRST must select from “crashes,” “vehicles,” “people,” “drivers,” “occupants,” “pedestrians,” and “pedalcyclists” at the top of the query tool, and your selection determines which data elements can be selected in a report query. Five of the 17 data elements were either not available in “pedestrians” or “pedalcyclists” queries or did not run successfully:

  • Not available: Striking Vehicle Speed, Vehicle Configuration, Vehicle Trailing, and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
  • Did not return results: Striking Vehicle Hit and Run

Six of the 17 data elements were driver-related, the subject of today’s post.

While the “Striking Vehicle Hit and Run” data element did not provide any successful results in our attempts, the data element “Involving a Hit and Run” shows that people walking and biking are much more likely to be killed in crashes that involve a hit and run. Pedestrians accounted for 62% of traffic deaths that involved a hit and run between 2017-2021. Bicyclists, who account for about 2% of traffic deaths overall, accounted for 8% of traffic deaths that involved a hit and run. 

2021 had the highest rates of traffic deaths involving a hit and run, in the data available since 2007, with 24% of pedestrian deaths and 23% of bicyclist deaths involving a hit and run in 2021. If drivers stop when they hit a person biking and walking, they can initiate emergency response calls and potentially save lives. Post-Crash Care is one of five objectives of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy, and drivers deprive victims of the best post-crash care when they fail to stop and alert authorities to the crash.

Three data elements were related to driver demographics, and those data elements provided very limited data. Driver demographic data would be helpful for understanding disparities in traffic deaths between different racial and ethnic demographics. Demographic differences among people killed were the subject of a NHTSA report last year, finding large disparities in the rate of traffic deaths per capita based on race and ethnicity. Striking driver demographics, although now available as data elements, were generally not available in the queried data:

  • Striking Vehicle Driver Race and Hispanic - Not reported for 99+% of fatal crashes (may only be reported when the striking vehicle driver dies)
  • Striking Vehicle Driver Race - Not reported for 99+% of fatal crashes (may only be reported when the striking vehicle driver dies)
  • Striking Vehicle Driver Hispanic Origin - Not reported for 99+% of fatal crashes (may only be reported when the striking vehicle driver dies)

One data element provides “Striking Vehicle Driver Age.” This data was available for pedestrian and cyclist queries. For both pedestrians and cyclists, about one-third of striking drivers are aged 30 or below, with each year of age between 18 and 30 accounting for more than 2% of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. People aged 31-57 account for between 2% and 1.5% of pedestrian and cyclist deaths for each year of age. Then there is a stronger drop off in share based on age.

One data element provides “Striking Vehicle Driver Sex” which is pretty consistent over time and shows that men are more likely to be striking drivers, with about 2/3rds of drivers being male.

This post covers six data elements, the next post will cover vehicle-related data elements.