How many people die in car accidents each year? (2024)

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Nearly 43,000 people died in car accidents in the U.S. in 2022, the most recent year for which complete data is available. That figure is up substantially from 10 years prior, representing a traffic fatality increase of 27% from 2012.

Distracted driving, alcohol, speeding and lack of seat belt use are among the leading causes of death in traffic accidents. Legislation and law enforcement initiatives to counter these reckless behaviors have had mixed results. Some lethal road behaviors, like forgoing seatbelts, have become less common in recent years; others, like driving under the influence of alcohol, are still alarmingly widespread.

Key insights

An average of 37,101 people died annually in car accidents from 2012 to 2022 in the U.S.

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Individuals between the ages of 20 and 24 have the highest motor vehicle crash fatality rates, accounting for 19.9% of all crash fatalities in 2021.

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An alcohol-impaired driver was involved in 13,384 traffic fatalities in 2021, an increase of over 14% from 2020. The drunk drivers themselves made up 60% of those fatalities.

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In 2021, over 12,300 crash fatalities involved speeding, which accounted for 29% of the total motor vehicle crash fatalities that year. This represented the highest number of speeding-related crash fatalities in at least a decade.

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Seat belt use strongly increases the odds of surviving a car crash. Among the vehicle occupants who survived fatal car accidents in 2021, 85% were wearing their seatbelts. Of those who died, only half were strapped in safely.

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Traffic fatalities by year

Annual car accident fatalities in the U.S. increased by over 9,000 from 2012 to 2022. This trend was punctuated by a particularly steep increase between 2020 and 2021, when fatalities jumped by nearly 4,000.

However, new data indicates a welcome decline in recent months. Statistical projections and rates calculated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through September 2023 indicate that vehicle fatalities are down 4.5% year over year.

Area and age

The likelihood of being killed in a car crash varies significantly depending on where someone is driving or riding and how old they are.

Traffic fatalities by state

Texas had the highest number of traffic fatalities among any state in 2021, at 4,498. But other states had a much higher incidence of crash fatalities relative to their populations. Mississippians are twice as likely to die in a car crash than the average American and more than four times as likely to die in a car crash than residents of Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York or Rhode Island.

Three of the states that rank within the top 10 for per-capita traffic fatalities are also home to cities on ConsumerAffairs’ worst drivers list.

Traffic fatalities by age

Men between the ages of 20 and 29 had the highest motor vehicle fatality rate among either gender’s age groups in 2021, at about 28 deaths per 100,000 people. This group is followed by senior men aged 85 and older, at about 27 deaths per 100,000 people. Including children who are not of legal driving age, girls and boys under the age of 13 had the lowest fatality rate at two deaths per 100,000 people. Excluding children under the age of 16, women aged 65 to 69 had the lowest fatality rate at about six deaths per 100,000 people.

When combining data for both men and women, individuals between the ages of 20 and 34 experienced the highest motor vehicle fatality rates among any age group in the U.S. from 2004 to 2021. The number of people in that age cohort who died in motor vehicle crashes increased by about 7% from 2020 to 2021.

Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2023.

Causes of driving-related fatalities

Accidents involving two or more motor vehicles accounted for 43% of total fatal car accidents in 2021. Over 26% of deaths were caused by a collision between a vehicle and a stationary object. Fatal accidents involving pedestrians were just over 19%.

Fatal crashes of any formation are often the result of poor decision-making on the part of drivers or passengers. Some common causes of traffic fatalities — like alcohol use, speeding, texting while driving or riding without a seat belt — are within a driver’s or passenger’s control. Other influencing factors, like inclement weather, are not.

Alcohol

Alcohol-related traffic deaths in the U.S. have decreased by about 37% since 1982. This reduction can be attributed in part to visible police enforcement and the implementation of minimum age laws for the purchase, public possession and consumption of alcohol.

However, the number of annual alcohol-related crash fatalities has increased dramatically in recent years, jumping by more than 29% from 2012 to 2021. At least one alcohol-impaired driver was involved in 13,384 of the fatal car accident deaths in 2021. Of these deaths, 60% were the impaired drivers themselves.

Individuals aged 21 to 34 made up over 41% of the alcohol-impaired drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2021. In both 2020 and 2021, men made up about 76% of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes.

In 2021, about 20% of the alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes had been involved in traffic accidents, had license suspensions or revocations or had speeding convictions within the previous five years. Those who’d been convicted for driving under the influence within the preceding five years made up 7% of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes.

Most of the alcohol-related car crash fatalities in 2021 occurred at night, on urban roadways and in relatively dry weather.

Alcohol-related car accident fatalities by year

Speeding

Speeding has been a factor in a quarter or more of fatal motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. annually since at least 2012. In 2021, speeding affected over 12,300 motor vehicle fatalities, the highest number of speeding-related accidents in nine years. That figure represented 29% of the total motor vehicle deaths that year.

  • According to the most recent data, drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 are most likely to be involved in a speeding-related traffic fatality. Drivers who are 75 are the least likely to cause fatal accidents by speeding.
  • Of fatal accidents that involved speeding drivers in 2021, nearly 40% of those drivers were impaired by alcohol. Less than 20% of drivers were impaired by alcohol in fatal traffic accidents that did not involve speeding.
  • In 2021, about 21% of speeding drivers in fatal crashes had been involved in a previous car crash within the five years prior to their fatal accidents. Comparable percentages of those drivers, at 22% and 19%, had received speeding convictions or had their licenses suspended or revoked, respectively, during that preceding period.

Speeding-related car accident fatalities by year

Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2023.

Seat belts

In 2000, the U.S. Congress provided grants totaling over $1 billion for states to create and improve laws that enforce the use of seat belts, car seats and other safety measures for vehicle occupants. Seat belt use across the U.S. increased by 27% from 1995 to 2014, an improvement widely attributed to the implementation of these laws.

The use of seat belts has become even more widespread in recent years. The percentage of U.S. vehicle occupants who use a seatbelt while riding in daylight hours has grown from about 86% in 2012 to almost 92% in 2022, which is a record high. There was a slight decrease in use during the COVID-19 pandemic, but overall, drivers and passengers have been buckling up more.

Seat belt use correlates positively with a vehicle occupant’s chances of surviving a car crash. Of the vehicle occupants who survived fatal car accidents in 2021, the vast majority (85%) were wearing their seatbelts. Of those who died, only half were wearing their seat belts. But the shares of fatal car crash victims who were belted and unbelted have nonetheless taken some surprising turns as seat belt use has increased overall.

  • From 2000 to 2021, the percentages of both drivers and passengers who were belted during fatal traffic accidents grew, going from 38% to 45% for drivers and 33% to 43% for passengers.
  • As seat belt use increased over this same time period, the number of unbelted drivers and passengers fatally injured in car accidents decreased, dropping from 54% to 45% for drivers and 58% to 45% for passengers.

Car accident deaths by seat belt use & vehicle occupant status, 2000-2021

Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2023.

Distraction

A majority (65%) of distracted drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2021 cited daydreaming and general distractions as the main causes of their accidents. Cell phone use — including texting while driving — was the second most common cause, but was a significantly smaller proportion of cited distractions in fatal crashes, at approximately 11%.

Weather

According to the Department of Transportation, over 20% of car accidents in an average year are influenced by adverse weather. Between 2007 and 2016, wet pavement accounted for 76% of all car crash fatalities that were attributed to the weather, followed by active rain at 46%.

Traffic fatalities and car insurance

On average, a motor vehicle accident fatality incurs cumulative costs of about $1.8 million per crash. That figure factors in medical treatment expenses, lost productivity and wages, vehicle repairs and losses, administrative expenses and insurance costs. A car crash fatality is more than 10 times the economic cost of an average disabling injury resulting from a car crash.

Despite the high price of fatal car crashes, there does not seem to be a clear correlation between the rate of crash fatalities and the cost of insurance by state. Rhode Islanders, for example, have one of the lowest crash fatality rates in the nation, but they nonetheless allocate a relatively high percentage of their monthly budgets toward auto insurance. Residents of Montana, on the other hand, have below-average auto insurance expenditures, but their traffic fatality rate is the fifth-highest among all the states.

FAQ

How is alcohol-impaired driving defined?

The National Safety Council characterizes alcohol-impaired accidents as involving at least one driver who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more per deciliter.

What percent of traffic fatalities are alcohol related?

Alcohol-related traffic fatalities made up about 30% of total traffic fatalities that occurred between 2012 and 2021.

How many car crashes are fatal?

Fatal car crashes accounted for a little over half a percent of all car crash types in the U.S. in 2021 and led to 42,939 fatalities that year.


References

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  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities For the First 9 Months (January–September) of 2023.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  3. National Safety Council. “Speeding.” National Safety Council. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  4. National Safety Council. “Alcohol-Impaired Driving.” National Safety Council. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Alcohol-Impaired Driving.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Speeding.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Seat Belt Use in 2022 - Overall Results.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
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  11. Federal Highway Administration. “How Do Weather Events Impact Roads?” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
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  13. National Safety Council. “Type of Crash.” National Safety Council. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
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  16. Insurance Information Institute. “Background on: No-fault auto insurance.” Insurance Information Institute. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
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  18. Loughran DS. “No-Fault Automobile Insurance Unrelated To Accident Rates.” RAND Corporation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  19. Hartwig et al. “More Accidents, Larger Claims Drive Costs Higher.” Insurance Information Institute. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here
  20. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Overview of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes in 2021.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Evaluated Dec. 21, 2023. Link Here

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