People Are Traveling Farther, With Fewer Fatalities
Transportation of people and goods in our economy is at historically safe levels. Across transportation modes, people are traveling farther than ever, with fewer accidents. On roads in 2016, Americans drove twice the distance they did in 1980 (Fig. 115). Americans flew 2.3 billion commercial airline miles in 1980, while today traveling 6.3 billion miles in the skies. Transit miles doubled from 2.2 billion miles in 1980 to 4.6 billion in 2017. Rail freight miles rose modestly to 34 billion, up 5 billion from 1980.
Despite recent international jet incidents, commercial airline fatalities have become exceedingly rare in the United States, dropping from 58.2 fatalities per 100 million commercial air carrier miles logged in 1960 to 0 in 2017, where it has remained since 2014. Rail, pipeline, waterway, and transit crashes and crash fatalities are also extremely rare.
Unlike commercial air travel, highway vehicles have not come close to a zero-fatality level within the US.
Highway vehicles accounted for 95% of the 39,032 transportation fatalities in 2017 (Fig. 118). While highway vehicles are riskier than other modes, they also remain at a historically safe level in terms of fatalities.
On per billion vehicle miles traveled, highway crash fatalities have continued trending downward: 50.64 in 1960, 33.45 in 1980, 15.27 in 2000, and 11.56 in 2017. Notably, the trend for drivers killing pedestrians has recently reversed: after declining from 5.28 fatal crashes per billion vehicle miles in 1980, it fell to a low of 1.39 per billion in 2009 but rose again to 1.86 in 2017. Highway crashes are also a cause for concern with the trend reversing beginning in 2011 (Fig. 117).
Highway transportation fatalities as a result of alcohol-impairment have fallen from 53% in 1985 to 39% in 2017. With 90% of Americans buckled up in 2017, safety belts saved 14,668 lives in 2016, five times as many lives as the estimated 2,756 lives saved by airbags (Fig. 116).