Highway Safety

Construction on Bridge
Photo Credit: Jerry Kelleher

The number and rate of traffic fatalities and serious injuries are critical performance measures in the evaluation of the safety of our roadway network. For the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one life lost on our roadways or altered by a serious injury is unacceptable. Two years ago, MassDOT set targets for both the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries that occur each year in addition to the five-year rolling averages to track our progress towards eliminating fatalities and serious injuries. The actual numbers provide information about the occurrences within a specific year, the five-year rolling averages provide a picture of trends over time. Fatality and serious injury rates for vehicles are calculated per 100 million VMT to account for how the change in number of these measures is partially a factor of an increase or decrease in the aggregate number of miles being driven during that time frame. Please note that the current safety numbers published in Tracker 2020 are draft, as MassDOT is still working on closing out the 2018 calendar year officially for federal reporting. The website will be updated to reflect any changes when final numbers are available.

Fatalities and Serious Injuries

Fatality data is measured in three ways: the total number of fatalities, the fatality rate (per 100 million VMT), and the number of non-motorist fatalities. Fatality data is one calendar year behind the reporting period, so Tracker 2020 reflects data collected during CY18. In accordance with MAP-21, the FAST Act, and Federal Highway Administration’s guidance, MassDOT also reports data and sets targets for the total number of serious injuries, and the serious injury rate per 100 million VMT. Tracker also includes the number of fatalities in roadway work zones, which is a focus area of the Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Total Fatalities

Skip chart
[Data Table]

The total number of fatalities was somewhat higher in CY18 than CY17 (an increase of 13 fatalities), but the 5-year rolling average remained steady.

Rate Of Fatalities

Skip chart
[Data Table]

Unlike the total number of fatalities, the rate of fatalities decreased slightly from CY17 to CY18, from 0.55 to 0.54 deaths per 100 million VMT, and the 5-year rolling average rate decreased from 0.59 in CY17 to 0.58 in CY18 (for CY14-CY18). This is a reflection of increased VMT over this time period (VMT grew faster than the number of fatalities from CY17 to CY18).

Fatalities In Roadway Work Zones

Skip chart
[Data Table]

In CY18, work zone fatalities increased to 6 from the 2 that occurred in CY17. The rolling 5-year average has ticked upwards after a previous downward trend, increasing to 4.2 work zone fatalities per year over the 5-year average ending in CY18 (from a 3.4 5-year average ending in CY17). MassDOT continues to identify opportunities to improve work zone safety elements with the goal of having zero deaths in work zones.

Motorcycle Fatalities

Skip chart
[Data Table]

In CY18, motorcycle fatalities increased to 59 over the 51 motorcycle fatalities in CY17, increasing for the second year in a row. Correspondingly, the 5-year average also increased.

Total Serious Injuries

Skip chart
[Data Table]

In CY18, 2,560 serious injuries were reported. This is number is similar to the 2,573 serious injuries reported in CY17. The 5-year rolling average continues to decrease (2,816 in CY18 from 2,943 in CY17 as part of a longer reduction in serious injuries). In order to comply with federal performance reporting requirements, the USDOT established a single national definition for serious injuries, which states were required to adopt in 2019. This definition change may impact serious injury trends in future years.

Rate of Serious Injuries

Skip chart
[Data Table]

Although the number of serious injuries was similar from CY17 to CY18, the serious injury rate continued to decrease, from 4.1 per 100 million VMT to 3.8). The 5-year rolling average also decreased, from 4.8 per 100 million VMT to 4.5. As with fatalities, the increased serious injury rate seems to be a reflection of the increased VMT.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities and Serious Injuries

In 2019, MassDOT released its Statewide Bicycle Transportation Plan and Statewide Pedestrian Plan, which provide roadmaps for making biking and walking safe, convenient, and comfortable for short trips and everyday travel. Safety is critical to improving the experiences of people who walk and bike, and the statewide plans focus on improving safety through infrastructure, maintenance, education, and capacity-building for municipalities. The plans are actionable and measurable, and each plan strategy has metrics associated with it. In the coming years, Tracker will include additional detail on the bicyclist and pedestrian crashes. Efforts are underway to improve data collection and data quality for bicyclist and pedestrian modes, and Tracker will incorporate additional safety-related performance measures in the future.

Overall, there has been a downward trend in the 5-year rolling average for combined non-motorist serious injuries and fatalities between CY17 (546 injuries and fatalities) and CY18 (538 injuries and fatalities).

Total Bicycle Fatalities

Skip chart
[Data Table]

There was a decrease in bicyclist fatalities from CY17 to CY18 (from 12 to 4), and a corresponding downward trend in the 5-year rolling average (from 9.6 to 9.2).

Total Pedestrian Fatalities

Skip chart
[Data Table]

Pedestrian fatalities increased in CY18 over CY17 from 72 to 79. The 5-year rolling average has remained steady from CY14 through CY18.

Distracted Driving and Speeding Violations

Number of Distracted Driving Violations

Skip chart
[Data Table]

The Massachusetts “hands-free” while driving law went into effect on February 23, 2020. This law prohibits operators of motor vehicles from using any electronic device, including mobile telephones, unless the device is used in hands-free mode. Distracted driving is a safety concern in the Commonwealth and across the country, and Massachusetts joins a number of other states in passing this law to discourage drivers from using handheld devices while driving. The hands-free law was enacted in the second half of FY20 and partial year reporting is available for this Tracker. From the end of February to the end of June, a total of 16,395 distracted driving violations were issued.

Number of Speeding Violations and Proportion of Total Citations

Skip chart
[Data Table]

Speed of a person driving a vehicle is a critical factor in likelihood of a crash, and higher speeds increase the likelihood that the crash results in a serious injury or fatality, especially if the crash involves a person walking or biking. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there were proportionally more violations being issued for speeding, likely due to the decrease in vehicles on the road and associated reduction in congestion. The proportions of citations issued by police that include speeding violations increased from an average of 30 percent of total citations for the beginning of FY20 to between 33 to 51 percent for the months of March through June. In total for FY20, there were 186,340 speeding violations issued. The rate of fatalities increased in the spring of 2020 as compared to spring 2019 as well. The issue of speed is not just about speeding above the current speed limits, but it is also about ensuring safe speeds for all roadway users. MassDOT is working on addressing issues around speed through a Speed Management to Prevent Serious Injuries and Fatalities project. This project will implement a number of initiatives and actions highlighted in the Strategic Highway Safety Plan and modal plans to help realize the vision of a roadway system with zero roadways deaths and serious injuries.