Highway Safety:

Trends in Highway Fatalities 1975-1987

PEMD-90-10: Published: Mar 9, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO studied fatal traffic accidents from 1975 through 1987 that were included in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System, focusing on: (1) motor vehicle safety policies relating to vehicles, drivers, and highways; and (2) such highway environmental factors as narrow bridges, design deficiencies, weather, studded tires, freeway signage and geometry, and roadside hazards.

GAO found that: (1) fatal accidents increased from 1975 through 1980, decreased from 1982 through 1983, and increased again from 1984 through 1987; (2) driver fatalities accounted for over half of all motor-vehicle-related fatalities; (3) fatality rates for females increased markedly; (4) the percentage of vehicle occupants not using safety restraints who were killed in accidents continues to increase; (5) while alcohol abuse is a serious safety problem, NHTSA believes that the percentage of drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents has decreased; (6) the number of small cars involved in fatal accidents increased over 100 percent, and the number of vans and light trucks involved in fatal accidents increased over 50 percent; and (7) none of the studied environmental conditions showed patterns deviating from the overall statistical trends.

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