Car crash statistics

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A common occurrence, yet and still something most drivers try to avoid, a car crash affects all parties involved. Car crashes can range from a mere inconvenience or a life-altering event. On the more drastic side, it could end in thousands of dollars spent in repairs, medical bills or even have a fatal outcome.

Defensive driving is recommended by experts for all drivers. It is important to take proper precautions while on the road to keep yourself and those around you safe. But unfortunately, no matter how competent a driver one may be, there are times when a car crash is unavoidable.

Car crash statistics:

  • About three million people in the US are injured every year in car accidents, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
  • In 2019 (the last year data was reported), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates there were 36,096 fatal crashes for the year.
  • The CDC notes almost 3,700 people die daily as a result of auto-related crashes.
  • 53% of car fatal crashes that occurred in 2019 were the result of single-vehicle incidents, as indicated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
  • It is estimated by the NHTSA that 5 to 6 million car accidents happen in the U.S. each year.
  • In 2019 (the last year date was collected) the Insurance Information Institute (III) found 7,680 pedestrians were involved in fatal crashes.

Table of contents:

How many people die in car accidents?

According to the most recent reporting from the IIHS in 2019, there were 36,096 fatalities due to car accidents. When looking at the prior year, this figure reflects a 2% decrease, despite vehicle miles traveled showing a slight increase of 0.8%. This has been a nationwide trend for the past three years, which is a positive sign.

Why do people die in car accidents?

The following are leading causes of fatal auto crashes, according to the NHTSA:

  • Drunk driving: In the U.S., 10,142 people die each year due to drunk-driving accidents.
  • Distracted driving: In 2019, there were 3,142 auto-related deaths involving a distracted driver.
  • Speeding: Accidents caused by speeding claimed 9,378 lives according to records from 2018.
  • Drowsy driving: 2017 saw 795 fatal car crashes due to a drowsy driver behind the wheel.
  • Seat belts: In 2017, it is reported that 2,549 people died in an auto accident because they were not wearing a seat belt.

Driver behavior

Anytime a driver gets behind the wheel, they are responsible for obeying traffic laws to keep themselves and those in proximity safe. However, not everyone takes this approach when driving, and for some, this results in creating a car crash. A driver’s behavior and choices play a major role in their ability to be an effective driver. When a driver chooses to drive while drunk or under the influence, or to text and drive, the chances of a car accident are increased.

Even the most experienced driver can lose control on the road when impaired or distracted. The impact of a driver’s carelessness goes beyond themselves. As the data indicates, driver behavior or choices can have a significant impact on fatal car crashes, including the choice to drive without seat belts, speed or drive when sleep-deprived.

Car crash statistics in 2021

The NHTSA’s annual car crash report is compiled by the government and its focus is on motor vehicle fatalities. The NHTSA has not yet released official 2020 statistics; however, early estimates are available. The National Safety Council estimates there were 42,060 fatal car crashes in 2020 and an estimated 2,830 billion vehicle miles traveled. The cost of deaths, injuries and property damage was approximately $474.4 billion for motor-vehicle crashes in this period. This data reflects a 8% increase in auto-related death, and a 13% drop in miles traveled.

As one can suspect, COVID-19 seems to have impacted trends for 2020. Data shows that certain subgroups’ influence has increased, while others decreased. For example, from March to June 2020, there was a significant decrease in fatal crashes for people over age 64. This is likely because older people stayed home due to COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. Conversely, from March to June 2020, there was an increase in fatal crashes for younger people aged 16-44. June Shows the largest increase of 20% compared to the previous year. As most states partially reopened in June, there were more people in this age group that began to travel again.

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 33,654 in 2018. Year 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, but overall, the total number of drivers have steadily decreased from 54,549 in 1994, to 51,490 in 2018. According to the data below, speed-related crashes have yielded more fatalities in most recent years. Even though total car crash fatalities increased over the last five years, those caused by alcohol-impaired drivers have made a notable decrease, while the impact of other factors increased in representation.

Year Total car crash fatalities Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities Speed-related fatalities Pedestrian and pedalcyclist fatalities
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 state-by-state

Car crash statistics by state

Geographical trends for car crashes vary tremendously due to state population. States with larger populations and heavily populated roads have more drivers, and therefore more auto accidents. In 2018, Alaska’s population was 737,000 and they had 80 fatal car crashes, while Alabama’s population was 4,888,000 and had 953. In over two decades, the highest number of fatal crashes from Alaska was 101 in 2004. There was also a spike for Alabama in 2004 with 1,154 fatal crashes.

Certain factors affect the number of fatal crashes as well. According to the 2019 Crash Investigation Sampling System, 34% of fatalities were due to alcohol impaired driving for Alaska, and 26% was also true for Alabama. Other factors such as type of vehicle driven adds to these numbers. In 2019, Alaska had the highest number of deaths (48%) involving pickups and SUVs, compared to only 24% car occupants.

In 2019, both of these states reported a decrease of traffic fatalities. In 2019, Alaska reported 67 total fatal crashes, compared to Alabama’s 930. This trend has stayed prevalent over the decades. Numbers may occasionally increase or decrease, but the fact remains that for each state, the geographical trend is both unique and consistent over the years. Deaths per 100 million vehicles miles traveled has its own unique trend as well.

Alaska’s difference from 1994-2018 is a -34%, for example, and Alabama’s is -29%. These numbers have gradually decreased overtime, and figures vary greatly by state. Numbers are relatively low in Alaska and Alabama, while Wyoming totals 25.4 deaths. Overall for 2019, there were 1.11 deaths per 100 million miles traveled and 11.0 deaths per 100,000 people in the US.

Data reflects fatalities for 2019:

State Yearly car crash fatalities per 100 million miles traveled
Alabama 1.30
Alaska 1.14
Arizona 1.40
Arkansas 1.36
California 1.06
Colorado 1.09
Connecticut 0.79
Delaware 1.29
District of Columbia 0.61
Florida 1.41
Georgia 1.12
Hawaii 0.98
Idaho 1.24
Illinois 0.94
Indiana 0.98
Iowa 1.00
Kansas 1.29
Kentucky 1.48
Louisiana 1.42
Maine 1.06
Maryland 0.87
Massachusetts 0.51
Michigan 0.96
Minnesota 0.60
Mississippi 1.56
Missouri 1.11
Montana 1.43
Nebraska 1.17
Nevada 1.06
New Hampshire 0.73
New Jersey 0.71
New Mexico 1.53
New York 0.75
North Carolina 1.12
North Dakota 1.02
Ohio 1.01
Oklahoma 1.43
Oregon 1.37
Pennsylvania 1.03
Rhode Island 0.75
South Carolina 1.73
South Dakota 1.03
Tennessee 1.37
Texas 1.25
Utah 0.75
Vermont 0.64
Virginia 0.97
Washington 0.83
West Virginia 1.36
Wisconsin 0.85
Wyoming 1.44

Risk factors

In the U.S., the CDC indicates car crashes are a leading cause of death for people aged 1-54 (most recent reports determining demographic information for drivers and other factors are from 2019).

Male vs female crash statistics

Overall, 25,841 males were involved in fatal crashes, compared to 10,676 women; according to findings, Male drivers between ages 16-19 are almost twice as likely to die in a fatal car crash than their female counterparts.

Crash statistics by age

The age group that has the highest fatality rate due to car crashes is ages 25-34 with 6,733 deaths for 2018. Even though younger drivers make up only 3.9% of licensed drivers, they account for 6.0% of fatal crashes. Conversely, elder driver trends reflect the opposite — people aged 75 and older make up 7.5% of licensed drivers but only 6.5% of drivers in fatal crashes.

Vehicle and road conditions

The IIHS indicates that 45% of car crash deaths happened in rural areas and 53% of fatal crashes occurred with a single-vehicle accident. Leading in vehicle type by crashes are passenger vehicles, with 22,215 occupant fatalities. In 2018, it was also reported that the most fatal crashes occurred during normal weather conditions, and during daylight with 14,147 fatalities (NHTSA).

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, more people have used restraints consistently. In 2017, it is estimated that 14,955 lives were saved by seat belt usage. 47% of passengers were killed because of failure to use a seat belt. By 2019, IIHS reported 90.7% Americas saw the importance of seat belts and decided to buckle up. Hawaiians lead the numbers with 97% usage.

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 NHTSA data.

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 it is a widely recommended safety measure. Since the 70s, 45,746 lives have been saved by proper helmet usage (NHTSA). While these safety measures may seem small, it is proven that they are impactful on the number of lives saved.

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, as well as an economic impact that affects the whole world. Car crash survivors can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and be fearful of future car usage.

Economically, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent between service workers dispatched to the crash, medical expenses,damages and lawsuits. In 2018, the III indicates the average claim for property damage was $3,841, and $15,785 for bodily injury claims. Most affected by car crashes are low- and middle-income countries. It is estimated that from 2015-2030, car crashes will result in approximately $834 billion dollars in economic loss, globally.

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 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.

Car accident prevention

How to prevent a car accident

Here are some actions you can follow to limit car accidents:

  1. Practice proper seat belt usage during every trip, whether you are in the front or the back of the vehicle.
  2. Make sure babies and small children are secure in car seats and booster seats. Refer to the seat manual for correct age and height requirements.
  3. When riding a motorcycle or bicycle, always wear a helmet.
  4. Stay focused on the road. avoid distractions such as texting, emailing and using social media.
  5. As a pedestrian, stay alert and check for oncoming traffic, especially when crossing the street.
  6. Adhere to traffic laws and signs.
  7. Never drive when under the influence of alcohol or drugs and avoid riding with someone else who is.
  8. Do not drive if you are sleepy or drowsy.
  9. Take advantage of advanced safety features such as blind spot detection and lane departing warnings.
  10. Use hands free features and apps on your phone.
Written by
Kay Irvin
Personal Finance Writer
Kay has two years of writing for insurance domains such as bankrate.com and mytopinsuranceblogs.com. She has written about auto and life insurance and was a licensed insurance agent for 10 years.