The Department has made transportation safety its highest priority. The Secretary has mandated an ambitious DOT-wide safety goal to reduce the traffic fatality rate to no more than 1 fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by the end of 2008. This target was determined by conducting an analysis of the projected effectiveness of several safety programs from NHTSA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While NHTSA plays a significant role in helping the Department to achieve this target, ultimately this goal can only be met through the combined efforts of other agencies in the Department, the States, local communities, and other highway partners. (For details on the part of FHWA and FMCSA efforts aimed at achieving the DOT highway-related fatality goal, please see the performance sections of their respective budget requests.)

NHTSA Outcome Measure

In support of the DOT goal, NHTSA has established an outcome measure to reduce the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate (includes passenger cars, pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs) to 1.0 by 2008.

Reduce the rate of passenger vehicle occupant highway fatalities per 100 million passenger vehicle miles traveled (PVMT).
2002: 1.24
2003: 1.21
2004: 1.17
2005 Target: 1.15
2006 Target: 1.12
2007 Target: 1.10
2008 Target: 1.00
graph shows passenger vehicle occupant rate 1992 - 2008

The passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate has declined sharply since 1995 when the rate was 1.44. In 2004, the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate declined to 1.17. In order to further reduce this rate, NHTSA implements programs designed to address the agency’s top priorities, including programs to increase safety belt use, reduce alcohol-related crashes, mitigate rollover crashes, and improve compatibility between vehicles by enhancing side-impact prevention and protection. By achieving positive results in these high-priority areas, the agency expects continued reductions in the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate.

The 2004 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Annual Assessment indicates a drop of 578 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities (a 1.8-percent reduction), which represents the largest drop both in terms of number and percent since 1992. The number of occupant fatalities in passenger cars decreased by 3.2 percent. However, occupant fatalities in light trucks and vans (LTVs) – to include sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans, and pickup trucks – increased by 0.4 percent, with occupant fatalities in SUVs alone increasing by 5.6 percent.

A further reduction in occupant fatalities and the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate can be achieved by increased availability of front and side airbags, increased safety belt use, a reduction of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, and increased use of age-appropriate child safety seats. Consequently, the agency has set a 2007 target rate of 1.10 fatalities per 100 million passenger vehicle miles traveled, with the ultimate goal being a rate of 1.0 by 2008.

NHTSA Intermediate Outcome Measures

NHTSA’s intermediate performance measures support both the overall DOT goal and the agency's passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate goal. NHTSA’s intermediate performance measures for 2007 include: (1) reducing the expected rate of increase in the motorcycle rider highway fatality rate; (2) reducing the non-occupant fatality rate; (3) reducing the high-BAC (.08+) crash fatality rate; (4) increasing safety belt use; and (5) increasing restraint use among children from birth to age 7. The agency has included output measures in the budget program requests for each line item.


Reduce the rate of increase in motorcycle rider highway fatalities per 100 million motorcycle VMT.
2002: 33.96
2003: 38.78
2004: 39.89
2005 Target: 37.00
2006 Target: 46.00
2007 Target: 62.00
graph shows motorcycle rider fatality rate 1992 - 2006

While 20 percent of passenger vehicle crashes result in injury or death to occupants, an astounding 80 percent of police-reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to involved riders. In 2004, the motorcycle rider fatality rate increased to 39.89. Motorcycle rider fatalities have increased each year since reaching a historic low of 2,116 fatalities in 1997. In 2004, NHTSA’s annual assessment reports 4,008 motorcyclists were killed, an increase of 89 percent between 1997 and 2004. Without this substantial increase in motorcycle rider fatalities between 1997 and 2004, overall highway fatalities would have experienced a marked reduction of about 3 percent over this same time period.

Data for 2004 shows that motorcycle rider fatalities increased for every age group, however, the greatest losses were experienced in the “20-29” and the “40 and over” age groups. About two-thirds of the fatally injured motorcycle riders were not wearing helmets in States without universal helmet laws compared to 15 percent in States with universal helmet laws. Alcohol-related crashes killed over 1,500 motorcyclists in 2004, increasing by more than 1 percent from 2003.

The 2004 motorcycle rider fatality data represents the third largest percentage increase since 1988 and reflects the levels last seen that year. In 2004, motorcycle rider fatalities made up 9.4 percent of all motor vehicle traffic crash fatalities. NHTSA has set a target rate of 62 fatalities per 100 million motorcycle miles traveled for 2007. This is an ambitious target considering agency projections show an increase to 63 in 2007. However, by focusing on this growing problem the agency hopes to bring the rate down from the projection to its targeted rate. Like other road users who are urged to protect themselves from injury or death by wearing safety belts, driving unimpaired, and observing traffic rules, many motorcycle deaths could be prevented if motorcyclists would take responsibility for ensuring they have done everything possible to make the ride safe by taking operator training, wearing protective gear, and riding sober.

In 2004, 20 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and two other U.S. territories required helmet use by all motorcycle operators and passengers. In another 27 States, only persons under a specific age, usually 18, were required to wear helmets. Three States had no laws requiring helmet use.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), new unit motorcycle sales continued to climb in 2004, rising through the one million mark and reaching levels not seen since the 1970s. MIC is currently estimating 2004 two-wheeler sales of nearly 1,050,000, with year-to-date sales up 4.4 percent through October 2004, marking the 12th consecutive year of growth for the U.S. motorcycle market. As a result, State operator training programs continue to have difficulty meeting the increased demand for their services.

Reduce the rate of non-occupant highway fatalities per 100 million VMT.
2002: 0.20
2003: 0.19
2004: 0.19
2005 Target: 0.16
2006 Target: 0.16
2007 Target: 0.15
graph shows non-occupant fatality rate 1992 - 2007

According to the 2004 FARS Annual Assessment, the number of non-occupants of all types (pedestrians, pedalcyclists, and occupants of motor vehicles not in transport and of non-motor vehicle transport devices) killed in motor vehicle crashes again declined by another 1 percent in 2004, while the non-occupant fatality rate remained at 0.19. NHTSA has set its 2007 target at 0.15 fatalities per 100 million VMT.

Reduce the rate of fatalities in high- BAC (0.08+) crashes per 100 million VMT.

2003 Baseline: 0.51*
2004: 0.49
2005: TBD
2006 Target: 0.51
2007 Target: 0.49

graph shows rate of fatalities in high bac crashes 1992 - 2007

In 2004, NHTSA estimates that about 7 percent of all police-reported crashes involved the use of alcohol – amounting to 39 percent of all fatal crashes, and claiming 16,694 lives. Recognizing that high-BAC drivers (.08 and above) make up 85 percent of the alcohol problem, for FY 2006 NHTSA created a new goal to reduce the rate of fatalities in high-BAC crashes for 2006 and beyond. In 1996 the high-BAC crash fatality rate amounted to 0.61 and decreased significantly to 0.49 in 2004. This is a "declaration of success" for State .08 laws. However, the median BAC value for alcohol-involved drivers was .16, meaning half of all alcohol-involved drivers had BACs higher than twice the legal limit in most States (all States as of July 2004). The following chart shows the breakout of fatalities by highest BAC in the crash and the corresponding fatality rates for 2003 and 2004.

Highest BAC in Crash


% Change



Total Alcohol-Related Fatalities/Fatality Rate
100 M VMT



-2.4 %

Impaired (.01 <=BAC <=.07)/ Fatality Rate
100 M VMT




Intoxicated (.08 <= BAC)/ Fatality Rate 100 M VMT




While there is still work that needs to be done to prevent alcohol-related fatalities in their totality, NHTSA is taking aggressive action to implement strategies to continue to focus on the high-BAC crash fatality at-risk population. This group was involved in 14,409 of the more than 16,500 alcohol-related fatalities. To reverse this trend, the agency has been implementing new programs, which are outlined in its Impaired Driving Integrated Project Team (IPT) report to address repeat and high-BAC offenders. Efforts focus on three priority strategies from the report: high-visibility law enforcement; support for prosecutors and Driving While Impaired (DWI) courts; and alcohol screening and brief intervention. With Minnesota’s .08 BAC legislation taking effect in August 2005, now all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have enacted .08 BAC laws. It is the agency’s hope that alcohol-related fatalities, specifically high BAC crash fatalities, will continue to decline in the coming years.

Increase safety belt use.

2002: 75 percent
2003: 79 percent
2004: 80 percent
2005: 82 percent
2006 Target: 82 percent
2007 Target: 83 percent
graph shows belt use in percent 1998 - 2008

In 2005, the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) showed a 7-percentage-point increase in belt use since 2002, which amounted to an 82 percent usage rate – an all-time high. The agency had set 2006’s safety belt use target for 82 percent. NHTSA has set its 2007 target at 83 percent. These targets cannot be achieved without cooperation from States and local communities since passage of primary laws has proven to be the most effective way to ensure more vehicle occupants buckle up. In 2005, primary law States averaged 85 percent belt use, compared to 75 percent in States with secondary laws.

Over the past several years, the agency has been converting approximately 8.5 percent of the safety belt non-users into more regular belt users. However, continuing to convert this number each year becomes more difficult as the set of “hard core” non-users becomes a higher proportion of all remaining non-users.

States and local communities will need to continue to pass and enforce safety belt laws and encourage safety belt use in order for the national targets to be met; especially since, in 2004, more than 3 out of 5 (62%) teen (ages 16-20) passenger vehicle occupants killed were unrestrained. This compares to a 54 percent unrestrained rate for adult fatalities (age 21 and older).

Safety belts are approximately 50 percent effective in preventing fatalities in severe crashes.
The 82 percent safety belt usage rate will save 15,700 lives and prevent more than 350,000 serious injuries, saving $67 billion in medical care, lost productivity, and other injury-related costs every year.

Conversely, the failure of crash victims to wear safety belts leads to an estimated 5,300 preventable fatalities, 73,000 serious nonfatal injuries, and $15.8 billion in costs annually. Twenty-six percent of overall crash costs are paid by individuals directly involved in these crashes, the remaining 74 percent is paid by the public through insurance premiums, taxes, and higher health care costs. For each percentage point increase in safety belt use, an additional 2.8 million people buckle up, saving approximately 270 lives each year.

Increase restraint use among 0 through 7 year olds.

2002 Baseline: 88 percent
2003 Target: NA
2004: 82 percent*
2005: TBD**
2006 Target: 92 percent
2007 Target: 85 percent
graph shows projected daytime restraint use, birth to age 7
* Note: The agency re-baselined its restraint use target for 2007 after data showed a significiant decline from 88 percent in 2002 to 82 percent in 2004 (data in 2003 was not collected and data for 2005 is not yet available). The agency set its past targets based off of this one data point, but with a second year of data now available it was better able to forecast and project future restraint use in setting out-year targets. NTHSA has set a new target of 85 percent for 2007.
** 2005 data is not yet available.

Age-appropriate child safety seats are the most effective restraint systems available to child occupants of passenger vehicles. Restraint use by young children reached record levels in 2002 with 99 percent of infants and 94 percent of toddlers restrained. However, restraint use drops off when children reach the 4 -7 age category. Rear-facing infant seats reduce the risk of fatal injury in a car crash by 71 percent, forward-facing safety seats for toddlers by 54 percent, and safety belts by 45 percent. From 1975 to 2002, an estimated 6,567 lives were saved by the use of restraints (child safety seats, booster seats, or adult belts). In 2002, an estimated 376 children (under age 5) were saved as a result of child restraint use. If 100 percent of children were protected by child restraints, an estimated 485 lives (that is an additional 109) could have been saved in 2002.

The agency re-baselined its restraint use target for 2007 after data showed a significant decline from 88 percent in 2002 to 82 percent in 2004 (data in 2003 was not collected, and data for 2005 is not yet available). Past targets were based off of this one data point, but with a second year of data now available, the agency is better able to forecast and project future restraint use in setting out-year targets. NHTSA has set a new target of 85 percent for 2007.

By increasing restraint use among all children – and if the appropriate restraint systems are used correctly – the occurrences of death and injury should continue to decline. The agency relies on the States, local communities, and other groups to encourage the use of child restraints and booster seats and discourage placing children younger than 13 in the front seating position.