This research brief examines characteristics of traffic fatalities on urban roads and streets in relation to various factors, with an emphasis on the speed limits present at crash locations, as well as the role of speeding.
Prior to 2015, there were more traffic fatalities in rural areas than in urban areas in the U.S.; however, between 2010 and 2019, fatalities in urban areas increased by 34%, while those in rural areas decreased by 10%. Consequently, in 2019, there were 19,595 traffic fatalities in urban areas compared to 16,340 fatalities in rural areas. As populations and vehicle miles traveled in urban areas continue to grow, so do urban crash projections.
Additionally, although speeding occurs on all road types, urban roadways account for a disproportionate number of speeding-related fatalities. Despite lower speed limits on many urban roads, the high volume of pedestrians and bicyclists and high density of junctions can increase risks. Given the diversity of road users and their interactions on urban roads, it is vital to improve understanding of speed-related fatal crashes on urban roads in order to identify solutions.
This study showed that speeding-related fatalities on non-limited access roadways in urban areas (e.g., arterials, collectors, local streets) have trended upward from 2010 to 2019. Nearly half of these fatalities occurred on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or lower, and about one in five were in angle collisions. Additionally, speeding was involved in 38% of fatalities that occurred at or nearby interchange areas. Most victims from these crashes were drivers of the speeding vehicle who tended to be male and/or young adults. However, other road users were often fatally injured as well, including pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers in speeding vehicles, and occupants in opposing vehicles. Further, fatalities in vehicles that were not speeding tended to occur on higher-speed roads, whereas non-motorist fatalities tended to occur on lower-speed roads.
Data were from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is a national census of fatal traffic crashes. Fatalities were considered to have been speeding-related if any vehicle involved in the crash was reported to have been exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions, or racing.
The main analyses examined the annual number and percentage of traffic fatalities on urban roads and streets from 2010 through 2019 that involved speeding, as well as their distribution in relation to speed limits. Additional analyses examined the involvement of speeding and distribution of speed limits in relation to characteristics including the victims’ role in the crash as well as characteristics of the crash location (type of road, relationship to intersection, traffic control devices present, lighting conditions, etc.).