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Cars get safer every year, and yet fatalities on U.S. roadways continue to climb. Around 13 car accidents occur every minute, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These car accidents cost the economy approximately $474 billion in 2020, according to the National Safety Council. While driving can be dangerous, drivers can take certain steps — such as engaging in defensive driving — to help prevent costly collisions.
- An estimated 42,915 people died in car crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
- Approximately 4.8 million people were seriously injured in automobile collisions in 2020. (National Safety Council)
- The estimated total cost of car crashes in 2020 was $474 billion. (NSC)
- 2021 pedestrian fatalities have increased by 13% since 2020. (NHTSA)
- The average economic cost (including wage losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor vehicle damage and employers’ uninsured costs) for a fatal car accident was $1,750,000 and $101,000 for a disabling injury in 2020. (NSC)
- In 2020, crash fatalities were 62% passenger vehicle occupants, 17% pedestrians, 14% motorcyclists, 2% bicyclists, and 2% large truck occupants. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
- The rate of car crash deaths by 100,000 miles traveled increased by 21% from 2019 to 2020, constituting the largest annual increase since reporting began in 1975. (IIHS)
- July 4 is typically among the days with the most crash deaths. (IIHS)
- In 23% of fatalities in passenger vehicles, the occupants were ejected from the vehicle. (NHTSA)
- In 2020, 2,564 fatalities resulted from hit-and-run crashes. (NHTSA)
- All but six states reported increases in traffic deaths from 2020 to 2021. (USA Today)
Leading causes of fatal car accidents
According to the most recent report from the NHTSA, there were 42,915 motor vehicle fatalities in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020. This was the highest increase in year-to-year fatalities in the history of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. This increase may be partially due to lessened driving during 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. In 2021, people may have begun to drive more, and motor vehicle fatalities increased in tandem.
- Drunk driving: Drunk drivers cause more than 17,000 fatalities every year. That means someone dies from a drunk driving accident every 30 minutes. (New York State Police)
- Lack of seatbelt use: Of those fatally injured in a passenger vehicle, 44% of drivers and 41% of passengers were wearing their seatbelts. (IIHS)
- Speeding: 29% of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2020 involved speeding. More than half of fatal car accidents in 2020 occurred on roads with speed limits lower than 55 miles per hour. (IIHS)
- Distracted driving: 6% of fatal car crashes in 2020 involved distracted driving. Of the drivers involved in distracted driving, 64% were described as “lost in thought (daydreaming).” Another 12% were engaging in cell phone use. (IIHS)
- Drowsy driving: In 2020, 633 fatalities resulted from drowsy driving. Drowsy driving was responsible for almost 2% of total traffic fatalities that year. (NHTSA)
Dangerous driver behavior is more likely to occur under specific circumstances, such as after staying out late or drinking. Drinking alcohol can lower a driver’s risk tolerance and they may consider themselves safe to get behind the wheel, when, in fact, their blood-alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit. Consider the following statistics.
- A Traffic Injury Research Foundation poll found that nearly 41% of respondents thought that despite being over the legal BAC limit, they were still able to drive safely. (TIRF)
- Male respondents were nearly 150% more likely than women to report driving when they thought they were over the legal limit. (TIRF)
- Drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 are more likely than any other age group to be involved in an alcohol-impaired car accident. (NHTSA)
One way to help mitigate dangerous driving practices is to make sure you have a designated driver before attending an event where you will be drinking. Even if you’re not planning on drinking alcohol, you may want to make sure you have a ride home if you’re staying out late, because drowsy driving can lead to accidents as well.
Distracted driving and speeding may occur if a driver is running late. To help mitigate this behavior, it may be beneficial to leave on time and establish a no texting rule in your vehicle, no matter the circumstances.
Car crash statistics
The NHTSA’s annual car crash report is compiled by the government and focuses on motor vehicle fatalities. The NHTSA has not yet released official 2021 statistics; however, early estimates are available. NHTSA’s early estimates show that there were around 42,915 traffic fatalities in 2021, up 10.5% from 38,823 fatalities in 2020. 2021 posted the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2005 and the highest jump in year-to-year traffic deaths since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established.
The reason for this high percentage increase could be that fewer people were leaving their houses and driving amid the pandemic. Once more people began driving in 2021, more collisions followed.
Car crash statistics over time
According to statistics dating back to 1994, the total number of fatal car crashes has not seen any drastic shifts. In 1994, there were 36,254 crashes, compared to 42,915 in 2021. 2011 holds the record for the lowest number of crashes with 29,867. Where we see a real change in numbers is for driving factors for those involved in crashes.
Factors such as being distracted or disobeying traffic signs have varied over the years. According to the data below, alcohol-impaired crashes have yielded the most fatalities in most recent years. Total car crash fatalities have increased over the last five years in tandem with population growth.
|Year||Total car crash fatalities||Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities||Speed-related fatalities||Pedestrian and pedalcyclist fatalities|
Car crash statistics by state
Car accident rates vary by state and region since areas vary in road quality, public transit options and number of drivers on the roadway. Northeastern states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts topped the list for fewest deaths per 100 million miles driven. One potential reason for fewer traffic fatalities in the Northeast is the availability of high-quality public transit. Boston has the best public transit in the country, according to Metro Magazine.
Southeastern and Western states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, and South Carolina experience some of the highest number of deaths per million miles traveled. These states are known for poor public transit. In fact, New Orleans ranks as the worst city in the United States for public transportation. In addition, most of these states feature a high concentration of poorly paved, winding and often dark rural roads that can pose dangers to drivers.
Data reflects fatalities for 2020:
|State||Yearly car crash fatalities per 100 million miles traveled|
|District of Columbia||1.19|
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans between ages one and 54. However, certain demographics are more likely than others to be involved in a fatal car accident. Teen drivers are one of the most vulnerable populations.
- For nearly every year between 1975 and 2020, there have been two male crash deaths for every female crash deaths. (IIHS)
- Men typically drive more miles than women, and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as driving while intoxicated, speeding and not wearing seatbelts. (IIHS)
- Speeding was a factor in more motor vehicle crashes with male drivers than female drivers in each year between 1982 and 2020. (IIHS)
- Teenage drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are more likely than any other age group to be involved in a car accident. (CDC)
- Teen drivers make up for only about 5% of all licensed drivers. However, in 2020, they accounted for 8.5% of fatal crashes. (III)
- The vehicle crash rate per 100,000 licensed drivers steadily decreases as drivers age, until around the age of 75, when crash rates begin to increase again. (NSC)
Safety devices save lives
Sometimes, car crashes are inevitable and there is not much you can do once a crash is occurring. However, some safety measures put into place by laws and vehicle manufactures can potentially reduce the chances of injury or death. One simple and safe choice that every passenger can make is to properly wear a seat belt.
Over the decades, drivers and passengers have begun to use restraints more consistently. In 2021, the national seat belt use rate was 90.4%. Seatbelts are important components of vehicle safety. In 2020, 23,824 vehicle occupants were killed, 51% of which were not wearing their seatbelts.
Although airbags were not standard for many vehicles until 1999, all cars are now required to have them installed in the front of the vehicle, and some even have them on the sides. Airbags can curb the impact of a car crash by providing a cushion between the passenger and the vehicle itself. Airbags saved 50,457 lives from 1975 to 2017, according to the latest NHTSA data available.
Over the years, laws have changed from state to state regarding motorcyclists wearing helmets. Even if it is not mandated by law, wearing a helmet when on the road is a widely recommended safety measure. Since the 70s, 45,746 lives have been saved by proper helmet usage. While these safety measures may seem small, it is proven that they are impactful on the number of lives saved.
Technological safety devices are also increasing in popularity. For instance, OnStar is a device that allows individuals to call advisors in the wake of a car accident. The service also provides roadside assistance and an app where you can call for help.
The impact of car crashes
While it is clear that car crashes can cause injury or death, they also have an emotional impact on those involved. Car crash survivors can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and be fearful of future car usage. Between 21% and 67% of motor vehicle crash survivors experience depressive mood, and nearly 50% experience anxiety and driving phobia following a crash, according to a study.
Economically, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent between service workers dispatched to the crash, medical expenses, damages and lawsuits. The estimated total cost of U.S. car crashes in 2020 was $474 billion, according to the National Safety Council.
How car crashes will affect your auto insurance
The purpose of car insurance is to protect you from financial loss in the event of an auto accident. Instead of being responsible for thousands of dollars out of pocket, your auto insurance is designed to provide financial protection in the event of a covered loss. Everyone’s coverage can be different, and your insurance company will only pay up to a certain amount as determined by your policy limits.
Your auto insurance limits are typically listed as a ratio, for example, 100/300/100 (all in the thousands). These limits tell you the maximum amount your insurance company will pay if you are at-fault in an accident for damages or liability. When filing a claim, you are primarily responsible for paying your deductible; if you have only the state-required minimum liability coverage and damages exceed your policy limits, however, you may be responsible for additional costs. In addition to any out-of-pocket expenses, a crash typically impacts your ongoing insurance costs as well, unless you have accident forgiveness and have been claim-free for the requisite period of time.
On average, a driver will see a 34% increase in their insurance premium after an at-fault accident. This does vary depending on factors such as your age, driving record, the state you live in and your insurance provider. Insurance ratings are based on these different factors plus many more. Having an accident on your record can put you in a higher risk tier in the eyes of insurers, and you may see an adjustment to your premium to reflect your current risk.
These increases typically do not last past a few years. Most companies limit how many years of your driving history will be taken into account when determining rates. To make sure you have the best rate available for you, however, it is generally recommended by experts to occasionally shop and compare your auto insurance policy.
Learn more: Comparing Car Insurance Rates
What to do after a car accident
The moments after a car accident can be scary and uncertain. If you are involved in a collision, the following checklist may be helpful.
- Make sure you and your passengers are safe. If anyone in the vehicle needs medical attention, the first step is to dial 911 and wait for assistance.
- Remain at the scene of the accident. Accidents can be scary, but staying at the scene will help you sort out liability and make sure everyone involved is safe. In addition, most states have laws against fleeing the scene after a collision.
- Exchange insurance information with the other driver. This helps ensure that the claims process goes smoothly.
- Ask for contact information from any eyewitnesses. If any witnesses are at the scene, you may want to exchange contact information. Witnesses can help determine liability in a car accident.
- Have a police officer on the scene file an official report. Police reports can help claims adjusters process your claim quickly and efficiently.
- Don’t discuss what happened with the other driver. Try to avoid making statements about what happened with the other driver. It’s easy to recount information incorrectly in the heat of the moment, and you don’t want that information to be used against you down the line.
- Take photos. Taking photos of the vehicles involved in the collision could help the claims process go quickly and smoothly.
- Write down an account of what happened. Writing an account of what happened while it’s still fresh could help you determine liability.
- File a claim with your car insurance company. You can typically file a car insurance claim online, on your company’s mobile app, or over the phone. You’ll likely be asked to submit your notes and photos from the scene, as well as the other driver’s name and insurance information. You can also give the names of eyewitnesses.
- Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In some states, drivers are required to file accident reports with the DMV. You may want to call your local DMV to see if this is required.