Freight Transportation Safety

Fatalities by freight transportation mode

Freight transportation activity has increased in recent years as has the total number of freight transportation-related fatalities, reaching 5,340 in 2017—a 12.2 percent increase over the 2010 total. Trucks accounted for 89.2 percent of all freight transportation fatalities and 12.7 percent of all highway fatalities in 2017. The vast majority of fatalities involve passenger travel on highways.
 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of total highway fatalities in 2018 decreased by 2.4 percent over the 2017 level while large-truck occupant fatalities increased slightly by less than 1 percent from 878 in 2017 to 885 in 2018.

Fatality rates for highway and large truck occupants

From 1990 through 2017, the overall rate of highway fatalities per vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) declined by nearly 43.8 percent as the highway modes showed across the board reductions. Fatalities per VMT for large truck occupants decreased by 41.7 percent over the same period.

Injuries by freight transportation mode

Historically, freight transportation comprises a relatively small percentage of all transportation-related injuries–4.6 percent in 2000 versus 4.8 percent in 2016. However, of the freight-transportation injuries that do occur, the majority of them have been attributable to the highway mode–ranging from 94.6 percent in 2000 to 97.3 percent in 2016.

Hazardous materials transportation incidents and property damage

Because most hazardous materials are transported by truck, the majority of incidents related to the movement of hazardous materials occur on highways or in truck terminals. A small share of hazardous materials transportation incidents results from a vehicular crash or derailment (referred to as “accident related”). While 1.2 percent of the incidents in 2019 were accident related, they accounted for 65.0 percent of all property damage. Highway had the highest share of incidents at 90.1 percent and accounted for 80.5 percent of all property damage.

Fleet composition of rail tank cars carrying Class 3 flammable liquids

Transportation of flammable liquids requires special equipment and handling to reduce the risk of a spill or explosion that can cause human injury and death, result in property damage, and impact the environment. New DOT safety specifications require that rail tank cars (DOT-117 and DOT-117R) used in transporting Class 3 flammable liquids include a layer of insulation or thermal protection between the tank shell and the jacket to stabilize the temperature of the liquid and reduce the conductivity of heat from outside sources to the contents of the tank car. At the end of 2018, 34.3 percent of the 80,298 tank cars used to carry Class 3 flammable liquids met the new safety requirements, a notable increase from the 2.0 percent in 2015. Of the tank cars meeting new safety requirements, 51.5 percent (14,184) were new and 48.5 percent (13,357) were retrofitted. By 2029, DOT expects all Class 3 flammable liquids will be transported in rail tank cars that meet or exceed DOT specifications.

Commercial motor carrier compliance reviews by safety rating

As part of efforts to improve safety, federal and state governments conducted 7,072 safety compliance reviews in 2019. Of that total, about 4.8 percent (342) of motor carriers that were subject to the review received an unsatisfactory rating. If a carrier receives a conditional rating, it means that there are conditions that need to be met for the carrier’s operations to be in full compliance. Once the conditions have been met, the carrier would need a new rateable review to get the rating upgraded to satisfactory. An unsatisfactory rating implies that there are serious deficiencies that need to be rectified within 45–60 days. If rectified, the rating can be upgraded to a conditional or satisfactory rating. If not, the provisional unsatisfactory rating becomes final and the carrier is placed out-of-service.

Activity summary of roadside safety inspections by motor carrier inspection type

About one-fifth of all roadside inspections of commercial vehicles resulted in a vehicle being placed out-of-service (OOS) for a serious violation. Notably lower percentages of driver and hazardous materials inspections resulted in OOS orders. In 2019, 5.0 percent of driver inspections and 4.4 percent of hazardous materials inspections resulted in OOS orders.

Recommended citation
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Freight Facts and Figures (Washington, DC: 2019).

Freight Facts & Figures, developed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is a collection of charts and statistical tables about freight transportation in the United States. These visualizations provide a snapshot of freight movement; the extent, condition, and performance of the freight transportation system; the economic implications of freight movement; and the safety, energy, and environmental impacts of freight transportation.

More from Freight Facts & Figures 

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation.