Facts + Statistics: Highway safety

The cost and crashworthiness of vehicles as well as drivers’ safety habits affect the cost of auto insurance. Out of concern for public safety and to help reduce the cost of crashes, insurers support safe driving initiatives. The insurance industry is a major supporter of anti-drunk driving and seatbelt usage campaigns.

 
Lives saved by safety devices

  • Airbags: Airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the federal government has required auto manufacturers to install driver and passenger airbags for frontal protection in all cars since the 1999 model year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that frontal airbags saved the lives of 2,790 occupants age 13 and older in 2017. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for frontal airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags.
  • Seatbelts: Among passenger vehicle occupants age five and older, seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. In fatal crashes in 2017, about 83 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. NHTSA says that when used seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, the risk is reduced by 60 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
  • Child safety seats: NHTSA says that in 2017 the lives of an estimated 325 children under the age of five were saved by restraints.
  • Motorcycle helmets: NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 749 lives could have been saved.
  • Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers. In other words, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 of them could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.
  • Electronic stability control: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires all vehicles manufactured after model year 2012 to have electronic stability control (ESC). All new passenger cars, light trucks, SUVs and vans must comply with the requirement. ESC was designed to help prevent rollovers and other types of crashes by controlling brakes and engine power.
  • NHTSA says ESC saved about 1,949 passenger car occupant lives in 2015 including 857 passenger car occupants, and 1,091 lives among light truck and van occupants. The 2015 total for lives compares with 1,575 lives saved in 2014 and 1,380 lives saved in 2013. Over the five years from 2011 to 2015, NHTSA says the ESC has saved a total of more than 7,000 lives.

 
Motor vehicle crashes

2020: NHTSA’s estimate for the first half of 2020, which includes about three months of data during the COVID-19 epidemic, shows that traffic fatalities fell 2.0 percent from first half 2019, while vehicle miles traveled fell at the much faster rate of 16.6 percent, leading to an increase in the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled of 1.25, up from 1.06 in the same period in 2018. According to Triple-I’s chief actuary, James Lynch, the increase in traffic fatalities was likely caused by faster driving.

2019: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 36,096 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2019, down 2.0 percent from 36,835 in 2018. The drop in 2019 was the third consecutive annual decline, which occurred despite a 0.9 percent increase from 2018 in vehicle miles traveled. Fatalities decreased slightly in 2019 for drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, pedestrians and pedal cyclists. Fatalities involving SUVs rose 3.4 percent from 2018 and rose slightly in crashes involving large trucks. The total fatality rate, measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, dropped to 1.10 in 2019, from 1.13 in 2018.

2018: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 36,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2018, down 2.4 percent from 37,473 in 2017, declining for the second consecutive year. According to NHTSA, fatalities decreased in 2018 for drivers, passenger car, van and SUV occupants and motorcyclists but rose in crashes involving large trucks, pedestrians and pedalcyclists. The fatality rate, measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, dropped to 1.13 in 2018, from 1.17 in 2017.

 
Traffic Deaths, 2010-2019

 

Year Fatalities Annual
percent
change
Fatality rate
per 100 million
vehicle miles traveled
Fatality rate
per 100,000
registered vehicles
2010 32,999 -2.6% 1.11 12.82
2011 32,479 -1.6 1.10 12.25
2012 33,782 4.0 1.14 12.72
2013 32,893 -2.6 1.10 12.21
2014 32,744 -0.5 1.08 11.92
2015 35,484 8.4 1.15 12.61
2016 37,806 6.5 1.19 13.13
2017 37,473 -0.9 1.17 12.90
2018 36,835 -1.7 1.14 12.31
2019 36,096 -2.0 1.10 NA

NA=Data not available.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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  • The number of passenger vehicle occupants killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2019 decreased by 2.8 percent from 2018.
  • Passenger car occupants deaths fell 5 percent from 2018 to 2019.
  • Motorcyclist deaths fell a slight 0.5 percent and pedestrian and pedal cyclist deaths fell 2.7 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.

 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle occupants accounted for 66 percent of traffic deaths in 2018. Pedestrians accounted for 17 percent. Motorcycle riders accounted for another 14 percent, pedal cyclists, other nonoccupants and unknown occupants accounted for the remainder.

 
Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths By State, 2018-2019

 

  Number of deaths     Number of deaths  
State 2018 2019 Percent
change
State 2018 2019 Percent
change
Alabama 953 930 -2.4% Montana 181 184 1.7%
Alaska 80 67 -16.3 Nebraska 230 248 7.8
Arizona 1,011 981 -3.0 Nevada 329 304 -7.6
Arkansas 520 505 -2.9 New Hampshire 147 101 -31.3
California 3,798 3,606 -5.1 New Jersey 563 559 -0.7
Colorado 632 596 -5.7 New Mexico 392 424 8.2
Connecticut 293 249 -15.0 New York 964 931 -3.4
Delaware 111 132 18.9 North Carolina 1,436 1,373 -4.4
D.C. 31 23 -25.8 North Dakota 105 100 -4.8
Florida 3,135 3,183 1.5 Ohio 1,068 1,153 8.0
Georgia 1,505 1,491 -0.9 Oklahoma 655 640 -2.3
Hawaii 117 108 -7.7 Oregon 502 489 -2.6
Idaho 234 224 -4.3 Pennsylvania 1,190 1,059 -11.0
Illinois 1,035 1,009 -2.5 Rhode Island 59 57 -3.4
Indiana 860 809 -5.9 South Carolina 1,036 1,001 -3.4
Iowa 319 336 5.3 South Dakota 130 102 -21.5
Kansas 405 411 1.5 Tennessee 1,040 1,135 9.1
Kentucky 724 732 1.1 Texas 3,648 3,615 -0.9
Louisiana 771 727 -5.7 Utah 260 248 -4.6
Maine 136 157 15.4 Vermont 68 47 -30.9
Maryland 512 521 1.8 Virginia 820 831 1.3
Massachusetts 355 334 -5.9 Washington 539 519 -3.7
Michigan 977 985 0.8 West Virginia 294 260 -11.6
Minnesota 381 364 -4.5 Wisconsin 589 566 -3.9
Mississippi 663 643 -3.0 Wyoming 111 147 32.4
Missouri 921 880 -4.5 United States 36,835 36,096 -2.0

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Drivers In Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes By Age, 2018

 

  Licensed drivers Drivers in fatal
crashes
Age group Number Percent of
total drivers
Number Involvement
rate (1)
16 to 20 11,961,442 5.3% 4,061 34.0
21 to 24 14,270,243 6.3 4,777 33.5
25 to 34 40,165,221 17.7 10,738 26.7
35 to 44 37,645,683 16.5 8,110 21.5
45 to 54 38,643,003 17.0 7,863 20.4
55 to 64 39,580,799 17.4 7,261 18.3
65 to 74 28,194,118 12.4 4,218 15.0
Over 74 17,054,879 7.5 3,098 18.2
Total 227,558,385 100.0% 51,490 (2) 22.6

(1) Per 100,000 licensed drivers in each age group.
(2) Includes drivers under the age of 16 and of unknown age.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Federal Highway Administration.

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Motor Vehicle Deaths Per 100,000 Persons By Age, 2018

 

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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Sex Of Drivers Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2009-2018 (1)

 

  Drivers in fatal crashes
  Male Female Total (2)
Year Number Rate (3) Number Rate (3) Number Rate (3)
2009 32,690 31.42 11,797 11.22 44,492 21.27
2010 31,897 30.62 11,796 11.18 43,697 20.84
2011 31,771 30.34 11,227 10.51 43,001 20.33
2012 33,209 31.65 11,557 10.82 44,773 21.15
2013 32,457 30.92 11,382 10.63 43,848 20.67
2014 32,462 30.66 11,250 10.40 43,721 20.43
2015 35,679 33.15 12,333 11.17 48,030 22.03
2016 37,731 34.44 13,306 11.87 51,058 23.04
2017 37,856 33.99 13,619 11.96 51,488 22.86
2018 36,895 32.81 13,212 11.48 50,126 22.03

(1) Drivers over the age of 15. Includes motorcycle riders and restricted and graduated drivers license holders in some states.
(2) Includes drivers of unknown sex.
(3) Rate per 100,000 licensed drivers.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Driver Behavior

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a list of driver behaviors that are factors in fatal crashes. Speeding is at the top of the list of related factors for drivers involved in fatal crashes. In 2018, 8,596 drivers who were involved in fatal crashes (or almost 17 percent) were speeding. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that rising state speed limits over the 25 years from 1993 to 2017 have cost nearly 37,000 lives, including more than 1,900 in 2017 alone. By 2020, 42 states had maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher. On some portion of their roads, 22 states had maximum speed limits of 70 mph, and 11 states had maximum speed limits of 75 mph. Eight states had 80 mph limits, and drivers in Texas can legally drive 85 mph on one road, according to the IIHS.

Ranking second was the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, affecting 5,175 drivers, or about 10 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes. Failure to stay in the proper lane, and failure to yield the right of way were cited as third and fourth, with a total of about 7,500 drivers, or 14 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes exhibiting these behaviors. Distracted drivers were the fifth most likely to be involved in a fatal crash (2,688 drivers or 5 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes).

 
Driving Behaviors Reported For Drivers And Motorcycle Operators Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2018

 

Behavior Number Percent
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted limit or racing 8,596 16.7%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication 5,175 10.1
Failure to keep in proper lane 3,706 7.2
Failure to yield right of way 3,579 7.0
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.) 2,688 5.2
Operating vehicle in a careless manner 2,797 5.4
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer 1,990 3.9
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner 1,955 3.8
Overcorrecting/oversteering 1,617 3.1
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, building, trees, etc.) 1,540 3.0
Driving wrong way on one-way trafficway or wrong side of road 1,243 2.4
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out 1,221 2.4
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, etc. 1,176 2.3
Making improper turn 635 1.2
Other factors 5,203 10.1
None reported 9,167 17.8
Unknown 16,012 31.1
Total drivers (1)  51,490 100.0%

(1) The sum of the numbers and percentages is greater than total drivers as more than one factor may be present for the same driver.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Fatal Crashes By First Harmful Event, Type Of Collision, 2018

 

Type of collision Number Percent of total
fatal crashes
Collision with moving motor vehicle    
Angle 6,037 17.9%
Rear end 2,439 7.2
Sideswipe 909 2.7
Head on 3,651 10.8
Other/unknown 158 0.5
     Total 13,194 39.2%
Collision with fixed object    
Pole/post 1,384 4.1
Culvert/curb/ditch 2,259 6.7
Shrubbery/tree 2,386 7.1
Guard rail 947 2.8
Embankment 789 2.3
Bridge 180 0.5
Other/unknown 1,727 5.1
     Total 9,672 28.7%
Collision with object, not fixed    
Parked motor vehicle 407 1.2
Animal 185 0.5
Pedestrian 5,821 17.3
Pedalcyclist 844 2.5
Train 108 0.3
Other/unknown 367 1.1
     Total 7,732 23.0%
Noncollision    
Rollover 2,620 7.8
Other/unknown 400 1.2
     Total 3,020 9.0%
Total 33,654 (1) 100.0%

(1) Includes 36 fatal crashes with unknown first harmful events.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Motor vehicle crashes by time of year

Traffic fatalities spike during different periods.

  • In 2018 October had the most fatal crashes and February had the least, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In 2018, about 50 percent of fatal crashes occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, according to NHTSA.
  • The beginning of daylight savings is linked to an increase in auto accidents, according to an analysis by the University of British Columbia and studies by researchers at John Hopkins and Stanford University.
  • Crashes caused by drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more prevalent around Christmas and New Year’s Day compared with Thanksgiving Day. Crashes on the days around Thanksgiving are concentrated around typical rush hours, according to researchers at the University of Alabama.
  • All holidays are generally a time of increased travel and traffic deaths. In 2018, Memorial Day was the holiday period with the most motor vehicle deaths (389), followed by Thanksgiving Day (385), Christmas Day (380), Labor Day (375), New Year’s Day (304) and Independence Day (152). See chart below.

 
Holiday Driving, 2014-2018 (1)

 

  Holiday period (1)
  New Year’s Day Memorial Day Independence Day Labor Day Thanksgiving Day Christmas Day
Year Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
Deaths Percent
alcohol-
impaired (2)
2014 126 51% 337 37% 347 41% 362 42% 403 34% 355 34%
2015 354 36 370 39 366 35 397 34 392 35 280 36
2016 279 37 392 37 397 42 384 37 439 36 318 35
2017 330 31 345 38 529 39 345 37 470 37 299 38
2018 304 39 389 37 152 40 375 38 385 31 380 37

(1) The length of the holiday period depends on the day of the week on which the holiday falls. Memorial Day and Labor Day are always 3.25 days; Thanksgiving is always 4.25 days; and New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Christmas are 3.25 days if the holiday falls on Friday through Monday, 4.25 days if on Tuesday or Thursday, and 1.25 days if on Wednesday. See https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/holidays/holiday-introduction/ for more information.
(2) The highest blood alcohol concentration (BAC) among drivers or motorcycle riders involved in the crash was 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher (the legal definition of drunk driving in most states).

Source: National Safety Council based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

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Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths By Month, 2017

 

Month Deaths Percent
of total
Rank
January 2,616 8% 11
February 2,302 7 12
March 2,686 8 10
April 2,743 8 9
May 2,896 8 6
June 3,015 9 4
July 3,226 9 1
August 2,964 9 5
September 3,068 9 2
October 3,064 9 3
November 2,852 8 7
December 2,815 8 8
Total 34,247 100%  

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Distracted driving

Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, eating, talking with passengers, adjusting vehicle controls and other distractions, are a major safety threat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gauges distracted driving by collecting data on distraction-affected crashes, which focus on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement such as dialing a cellphone, texting or being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2018, 2,841 people were killed in crashes involving distractions. There were 2,648 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 8 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation.

Most states have addressed the issue of using cellphones for talking and texting. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as of December 2020, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Laws for novice drivers are even more restrictive: the use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 37 states and the District of Columbia, and drivers age 21 and younger are banned from texting in Missouri.

Texting bans were not shown to reduce crash rates, according to a Highway Loss Data Institute 2010 study of collision claims patterns in California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington before and after texting bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant. However, a more recent study using data from hospital emergency departments in 16 states between 2007 and 2014 found that states with texting bans had an average 4 percent reduction in emergency department visits after motor vehicle crashes, or about 1,600 visits per year. The results were issued in March 2019 in the American Journal of Public Health by authors from the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and used data from 16 states, all but one having laws banning texting while driving.

Teen girls are twice as likely as teen boys to use cell phones and other electronic devices while driving, according to a March, 2012 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

 
Fatal Crashes Involving Distracted Drivers, 2018

 

  Crashes Drivers Fatalities
Total fatal crashes 33,654 51,490 36,560
Distraction-affected fatal crashes      
Number of distraction-affected fatal crashes 2,628 2,688 2,841
Percent of total fatal crashes 8% 5% 8%
Cellphone in use in distraction-affected fatal crashes      
Number of cellphone distraction-affected fatal crashes 349 354 385
Percent of fatal distraction-affected crashes 13% 13% 14%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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  • Distraction was a factor in 9 percent of fatal crashes reported in 2017.
  • Cellphone use was a factor in 14 percent of all fatal distraction-affected crashes, but in only 1.2 percent of the 34,247 fatal crashes reported in 2017.

 
Pedestrian accidents

According to a report published in February 2020 by the Governors Highway Association (GHA), pedestrian auto fatalities in 2019 were projected to be at the highest level since 1988, reaching 6,590 deaths. The 2019 total represents a 6 percent increase from its estimate of 6,227 pedestrians killed in 2018. The GHA says this projection represents a continuation of an increasing trend in pedestrian crash deaths going back to 2009.

In 2018, 33 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a pedestrian with blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher. A BAC of 0.08 grams per deciliter is the legal limit for alcohol impairment in all states except Utah, which has a threshold of 0.05 grams per deciliter. In 2018, 17 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher.

 

 

 
Additional resources

Background

Background on: Teen drivers

Background on: Older drivers

Background on: Distracted driving

Facts + Statistics

Drowsy driving

Aggressive driving

Distracted driving

Teen drivers

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