After unexpected increases in car crash fatalities in 2020 and 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that traffic fatalities decreased during 2022 and the first quarter of 2023 despite a 2.6 percent increase in average annual mileage. Compared to the first quarter of 2022, the first quarter of 2023 saw a 3.3 percent decrease in fatalities, the fourth quarter in a row showing slow and steady improvement. While improvements to infrastructure and vehicle standards are ongoing at the state and federal levels, we can all help prevent costly car wrecks and hopefully reduce insurance premiums by engaging in defensive driving and other preventive measures.

Car crash statistics

Key crash stats
  • An estimated 42,915 people died in car crashes in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase from 2020. (NHTSA)
  • An estimated 9,330 people died from traffic crashes in the first three months of 2023 compared to 9,645 in the first quarter of 2022. (NHTSA)
  • Approximately 5.4 million people experienced car crash injuries in 2021. (National Safety Council)
  • The estimated total cost of car crashes in 2020 was $474 billion. (NSC)
  • Pedestrian fatalities increased by 13 percent from 2020 to 2021. (NHTSA)
  • The rate of car crash deaths by 100,000 miles traveled increased by 21 percent from 2019 to 2020, constituting the largest annual increase since reporting began in 1975. (IIHS)
  • In 2020, 2,564 fatalities resulted from hit-and-run crashes. (NHTSA)

Leading causes of fatal car accidents

According to the most recent report from the NHTSA, there were 42,795 motor vehicle fatalities in 2022, a 0.3 percent decrease from 2021. While the trend remained relatively flat from the year before, 2023 shows promise, with a 3.3 percent decrease in traffic accident deaths in the first quarter of the year. When looking at how many people die in a car accident each year, the fatality rate was trending downward over the past 40 years until 2020. 2021 had the highest increase in year-to-year fatalities in the history of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. This increase may be partially due to a rebound in driving after the initial lull during the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Primary fatal auto crash factors
  • Drunk driving: Drunk drivers cause an average of 10,850 fatalities every year. In 2021, there was a 14 percent increase in drunk driving fatalities over 2020, with 13,384 drunk driving-related deaths. (NHTSA)
  • Lack of seatbelt use: Of those fatally injured in a passenger vehicle, 44 percent of drivers and 41 percent of passengers were wearing their seatbelts. (IIHS)
  • Speeding: 29 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2021 involved speeding. More than half of fatal car accidents in 2021 occurred on roads with speed limits lower than 55 miles per hour. (IIHS)
  • Distracted driving: 6 percent of fatal car crashes in 2021 involved distracted driving. Of the drivers involved in distracted driving, 65 percent were described as “lost in thought (daydreaming).” Another 11 percent were engaging in cell phone use. (IIHS)
  • Drowsy driving: In 2021, 684 fatalities resulted from drowsy driving. Most drowsy driving occurs between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon. (NHTSA)

Driver behavior

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 percent of respondents thought that despite being over the legal BAC limit, they were still able to drive safely. (TIRF)
  • Male respondents were nearly 150 percent 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)

Finding ways to mitigate dangerous driving practices can create safer roads for you and those around you. Some expert strategies include:

  • Plan ahead: 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.
  • Create good habits: Make some behaviors like wearing a seatbelt and keeping your phone out of reach while driving second nature, even for short distances.
  • Take your time: Distracted driving and speeding may occur if a driver is running late. Leaving the house with plenty of time may help you avoid accidents and remain calmer behind the wheel. It’s better to be a few minutes late than risk an accident.

Car crashes over time

The NHTSA’s annual car crash report is compiled by the government and focuses on motor vehicle fatalities. 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 42,795 in 2022. 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
2021 42,915 9,075 8,111 8,345
2020 38,824 8,643 7,725 7,454
2019 36,835 4,607* 9,478 7,338
2018 36,096 5,175 9,579 7,465
2017 34,560 5,761 9,073 6,881
2016 34,748 5,788 9,385 6,933
2015 32,538 5,587 8,931 6,323

*4,607 is an estimate based on FARS data and the reported decrease in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities

Car crash statistics by state

Car wreck rates vary by state and region since areas vary in road quality, public transit options and number of drivers on the roadway. According to IIHS, Northeastern states such as New York and Rhode Island topped the list for the fewest deaths per 100,000 people in 2021. 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, and Rhode Island has some of the cheapest public transportation in the country.

Southeastern and Western states such as New Mexico and Mississippi experience some of the highest number of car accidents deaths per 100,000 people. These states are known for poor public transit and feature a high concentration of poorly paved, winding and often dark rural roads that can pose dangers to drivers. Drivers in these states may also be further away from medical services, increasing incident response rates.

States with the highest amount of car crash fatalities

State Yearly car crash fatalities per 100,000 people
Mississippi 26.2
South Carolina 23.1
Arkansas 22.9
New Mexico 22.7
Montana 21.6

States with the lowest amount of car crash fatalities

State Yearly car crash fatalities per 100,000 people
Rhode Island 5.7
New York 5.8
Massachusetts 6.0
District of Columbia 6.1
Hawaii 6.5
  • State Yearly car crash fatalities per 100,000 people
    Alabama 19.5
    Alaska 9.1
    Arizona 16.2
    Arkansas 22.9
    California 10.9
    Colorado 11.9
    Connecticut 8.2
    Delaware 13.5
    District of Columbia 6.1
    Florida 17.1
    Georgia 16.7
    Hawaii 6.5
    Idaho 14.2
    Illinois 10.5
    Indiana 13.7
    Iowa 11.7
    Kansas 14.4
    Kentucky 17.9
    Louisiana 21.0
    Maine 11.1
    Maryland 9.1
    Massachusetts 6.0
    Michigan 11.3
    Minnesota 8.5
    Mississippi 26.2
    Missouri 16.5
    Montana 21.6
    Nebraska 11.3
    Nevada 12.2
    New Hampshire 8.5
    New Jersey 7.5
    New Mexico 22.7
    New York 5.8
    North Carolina 15.7
    North Dakota 13.0
    Ohio 11.5
    Oklahoma 19.1
    Oregon 14.1
    Pennsylvania 9.5
    Rhode Island 5.7
    South Carolina 23.1
    South Dakota 16.5
    Tennessee 19.0
    Texas 15.2
    Utah 9.8
    Vermont 11.4
    Virginia 11.2
    Washington 8.7
    West Virginia 15.7
    Wisconsin 10.5
    Wyoming 19.0

Car crash statistics by gender and age

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.

According to IIHS, there were 2,376 teen car crash fatalities in 2021, with 56 percent of the teens being drivers and the other 44 percent of the teens being passengers. While teen drivers make up for only about 5 percent of all licensed drivers, they accounted for 8.4 percent of fatal crashes in 2021. The ability to recognize and respond appropriately to sudden road hazards and driver maturity are the main factors. Teens engage in distracted driving more than any other age group and are least likely to wear a seatbelt.

Females consistently have a lower death rate when compared to males across every age group. For nearly every year between 1975 and 2020, there have been two male crash deaths for every female crash death. 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 discovered that for 2020, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for females, with 864 fatalities, while it was the third cause of death for males, with 1,866 fatalities. Homicide and suicide were the first and second causes of death, respectively.

How safety devices save lives

Safety laws and vehicle safety features can reduce the chances of injury or death in a car accident. One simple and safe choice every passenger can make is properly wearing 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 percent. Seatbelts are important components of vehicle safety. In 2020, 23,824 vehicle occupants were killed, 51 percent of which were not wearing their seatbelts. It is estimated that around 375,000 lives have been saved by wearing seat belts.

Although airbags were not standard for many vehicles until 1999, all cars are 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 an auto accident. The service also provides roadside assistance and an app where you can call for help. Many car insurance companies offer telematics discounts. These programs track driver behavior in real time and reward safe habits with potential insurance savings. These programs help drivers save money and incentivize safe habits behind the wheel.

The impact of car crashes

While it is clear that car crashes can cause injury or death, they also emotionally impact those involved. Car crash survivors can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and be fearful of future car usage. Between 21 and 67 percent of motor vehicle crash survivors experience depressive mood, and nearly 50 percent 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 do car crashes 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 steps and covers the loss up to your policy limits. If the amount of the loss exceeds your policy limits, you are responsible for the rest.

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 per person and per accident for bodily injury liability and property damage liability if you are found at-fault in an accident. Most states have a state-required minimum limit of liability, but insurance professionals advise drivers to carry higher liability limits for better financial protection.

In addition to any out-of-pocket expenses, a crash typically impacts your ongoing insurance costs as well, unless you have an accident forgiveness benefit. On average, a driver will see a 34 percent increase in their insurance premium through a policy surcharge following an at-fault accident. This varies depending on factors such as your age, driving record, your state and your insurance provider.

A surcharge remains on your policy for three to five years, depending on the state and situation. If surcharges are added to your policy, there are ways to lower your premium. Shop and compare your insurance with other insurance providers to make sure you have the best rate available and speak with your agent about discounts and other cost-saving opportunities.

Learn more: Compare car insurance rates in September 2023

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Remain at the scene of the accident. Most states have laws against fleeing the scene after a collision, even if you are not at fault.
  3. Exchange insurance information with the other driver. This helps ensure that the claims process goes smoothly.
  4. Ask for contact information from any eyewitnesses. Witnesses can help determine liability in a car accident.
  5. Have a police officer on the scene file an official report. Police reports can help claims adjusters process your claim quickly and efficiently.
  6. Don’t discuss what happened with the other driver. Avoid making statements about the accident, accepting blame or placing blame on the other driver. The insurance company will determine fault.
  7. Take photos. Taking photos of the vehicles involved in the collision could help the claims process go quickly and smoothly.
  8. Write down an account of what happened. Writing an account of what happened while it’s still fresh can help you answer questions from your claims adjuster calmly and accurately.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.