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

2017: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 37,133 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, down 1.8 percent from 37,806 in 2016, the first decline since 2014. According to NHTSA, fatalities decreased in 2017 for almost all segments of the population, such as motorcyclists, pedestrians, and alcohol-impaired and speed-related fatalities but rose for SUV occupants and in crashes involving large trucks. The fatality rate, measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, dropped to 1.16 in 2017, from 1.19 in 2016. NHTSA property damage figures shown below are based on accidents reported to the police and exclude fender-benders.

2016: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 37,461 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, up 5.6 percent from 35,485 in 2015. According to NHTSA, distracted and drowsy driving deaths fell in 2016, but deaths involving other reckless behavior, such as speeding, alcohol impairment, and not wearing seatbelts continued to increase. The fatality rate, measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, rose to 1.18 in 2016, from 1.15 in 2015.

 
Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2008-2017

 

Year Fatal Injury Property damage only Total crashes
2008 34,172 1,630,000 4,146,000 5,811,000
2009 30,862 1,517,000 3,957,000 5,505,000
2010 30,296 1,542,000 3,847,000 5,419,000
2011 29,757 1,530,000 3,778,000 5,338,000
2012 31,006 1,634,000 3,950,000 5,615,000
2013 30,057 1,591,000 4,066,000 5,687,000
2014 30,056 1,648,000 4,387,000 6,064,000
2015 32,539 1,715,000 4,548,000 6,296,000
2016 34,748 2,116,000 4,670,000 6,821,000
2017 34,247 1,889,000 4,530,000 6,452,000

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

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Traffic Deaths, 2008-2017

 

Year  Fatalities Annual percent
change
Fatality rate per
100 million vehicle
miles traveled
Fatality rate per
100,000 registered
vehicles
2008 37,423 -9.3% 1.26 14.43
2009 33,883 -9.5 1.15 13.08
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 32,894 -2.6 1.10 12.21
2014 32,744 -0.5 1.08 11.92
2015 35,485 8.4 1.15 12.61
2016 37,806 6.5 1.19 13.01
2017 37,133 -1.8 1.16 NA

NA=Data not available.

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

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  • Speeding-related fatalities fell by 5.6 percent in 2017 to 9,717 from 10,291 in 2016.
  • The number of fatalities in distraction-affected crashes in 2017 was 3,166, or 8.5 percent of total fatalities.
  • The number of fatalities involving a drowsy driver in 2017 was 795, or 2.1 percent of total fatalities.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle occupants accounted for 67 percent of traffic deaths in 2016. Motorcycle riders accounted for 14 percent. Pedestrians accounted for another 16 percent; pedalcyclists, bus and other nonoccupants accounted for the remainder.

 
Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths By State, 2016-2017

 

  Number of deaths     Number of deaths  
State 2016 2017 Percent change State 2016 2017 Percent change
Alabama 1,083 948 -12.5% Montana 190 186 -2.1%
Alaska 84 79 -6.0 Nebraska 218 228 4.6
Arizona 952 1,000 5.0 Nevada 329 309 -6.1
Arkansas 561 493 -12.1 New Hampshire 136 102 -25.0
California 3,837 3,602 -6.1 New Jersey 602 624 3.7
Colorado 608 648 6.6 New Mexico 405 379 -6.4
Connecticut 304 278 -8.6 New York 1,041 999 -4.0
Delaware 119 119 0.0 North Carolina 1,450 1,412 -2.6
D.C. 27 31 14.8 North Dakota 113 115 1.8
Florida 3,176 3,112 -2.0 Ohio 1,132 1,179 4.2
Georgia 1,556 1,540 -1.0 Oklahoma 687 655 -4.7
Hawaii 120 107 -10.8 Oregon 498 437 -12.2
Idaho 253 244 -3.6 Pennsylvania 1,188 1,137 -4.3
Illinois 1,078 1,097 1.8 Rhode Island 51 83 62.7
Indiana 829 914 10.3 South Carolina 1,020 988 -3.1
Iowa 402 330 -17.9 South Dakota 116 129 11.2
Kansas 429 461 7.5 Tennessee 1,037 1,040 0.3
Kentucky 834 782 -6.2 Texas 3,797 3,722 -2.0
Louisiana 757 760 0.4 Utah 281 273 -2.8
Maine 160 172 7.5 Vermont 62 69 11.3
Maryland 522 550 5.4 Virginia 760 839 10.4
Massachusetts 387 350 -9.6 Washington 536 565 5.4
Michigan 1,065 1,030 -3.3 West Virginia 269 303 12.6
Minnesota 392 357 -8.9 Wisconsin 607 613 1.0
Mississippi 687 690 0.4 Wyoming 112 123 9.8
Missouri 947 930 -1.8 United States 37,806 37,133 -1.8%

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

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Drivers In Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes By Age, 2016

 

Age group Number of
licensed drivers
Percent of
total
Drivers in fatal
crashes
Involvement
rate (1)
16 to 20 12,002,717 5.4% 4,412 36.76
21 to 24 14,460,176 6.5 5,233 36.19
25 to 34 39,194,065 17.7 10,815 27.59
35 to 44 36,500,347 16.5 8,116 22.24
45 to 54 39,407,317 17.8 7,946 20.16
55 to 64 38,379,823 17.3 6,966 18.15
65 to 74 26,070,715 11.8 4,122 15.81
Over 74 15,633,421 7.1 2,971 19.00
Total 221,711,918 100.0% 51,914 (2) 23.42

(1) Per 100,000 licensed drivers.
(2) Includes drivers under the age of 16 and 1,071 drivers 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, 2017

 

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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Sex Of Drivers Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2007-2016 (1)

 

  Drivers in fatal crashes
  Male Female Total
Year Number Rate (2) Number Rate (2) Number Rate (2)
2007 40,764 39.83 14,101 13.67 54,872 26.7
2008 36,825 35.60 12,536 11.99 49,369 23.7
2009 32,690 31.42 11,797 11.22 44,492 21.3
2010 31,897 30.62 11,796 11.18 43,697 20.8
2011 31,771 30.34 11,227 10.51 43,001 20.3
2012 33,209 31.65 11,557 10.82 44,773 21.2
2013 32,457 30.92 11,382 10.63 43,849 20.7
2014 32,462 30.66 11,250 10.40 43,721 20.4
2015 35,679 33.15 12,332 11.17 48,029 22.0
2016 37,352 34.09 13,208 11.78 50,581 22.8

(1) Includes motorcycle riders and restricted and graduated drivers license holders in some states.
(2) 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 as factors in fatal crashes. Speeding is at the top of the list of related factors for drivers involved in fatal crashes. In 2017, 9,234 drivers who were involved in fatal crashes (or almost 18 percent) were speeding. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that rising state speed limits over the past 25 years have cost nearly 37,000 lives, including more than 1,900 in 2017 alone. By 2019, 41 states had maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Six states had 80 mph limits, and drivers in Texas can legally drive 85 mph on some roads, according to the IIHS.

Ranking second was the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, affecting 5,592 drivers, or about 11 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 almost 15 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes. Distracted drivers were the fifth most likely to be involved in a fatal crash, with 3,210 drivers or 6 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes.

 
Driving Behaviors Reported For Drivers And Motorcycle Operators Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2016

Behavior Number Percent
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted limit or racing 9,234 17.8%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication 5,592 10.8
Failure to keep in proper lane 3,890 7.5
Failure to yield right of way 3,659 7.0
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.) 3,210 6.2
Operating vehicle in a careless manner 2,696 5.2
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer 2,064 4.0
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner 2,002 3.9
Overcorrecting/oversteering 1,967 3.8
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, building, trees, etc.) 1,566 3.0
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out 1,310 2.5
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, etc. 1,307 2.5
Driving wrong way on one-way traffic or wrong side of road 1,169 2.3
Making improper turn 348 0.7
Other factors 6,130 11.8
None reported 15,970 30.8
Unknown 8,479 16.3
Total drivers (1) 51,914 100.0%

(1) The sum of 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, 2016

 

Type of collision Number Percent of total fatal crashes
Collision with moving motor vehicle    
Angle 6,122 17.8 %
Rear end 2,350 6.8
Sideswipe 940 2.7
Head on 3,511 10.2
Other/unknown 174 0.5
     Total 13,097 38.0%
Collision with fixed object    
Pole/post 1,416 4.1
Culvert/curb/ditch 2,516 7.3
Shrubbery/tree 2,585 7.5
Guard rail 896 2.6
Embankment 947 2.7
Bridge 231 0.7
Other/unknown 1,835 5.3
     Total 10,426 30.3%
Collision with object, not fixed    
Parked motor vehicle 392 1.1
Animal 181 0.5
Pedestrian 5,548 16.1
Pedalcyclist 822 2.4
Train 102 0.3
Other/unknown 383 1.1
     Total 7,428 21.6 %
Noncollision    
Rollover 3,067 8.9
Other/unknown 396 1.1
     Total 3,463 10.1
Total 34,439 (1) 100.0%

(1) Includes 25 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 2016 October had the most fatal crashes and January had the least, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In 2016, 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 a study by researchers at John Hopkins and Stanford University.
  • Fifty more people on average die in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving week than during other weeks of the year, according to a University of Alabama study. Speeding, alcohol, time of day and weather, factors that affect crashes all year, are exaggerated during the holiday.
  • Holidays are generally a time of increased travel. In 2016, Thanksgiving Day was the holiday period with the most motor vehicle deaths (439), followed by Independence Day (397), Memorial Day (389), Labor Day (379), Christmas Day (318) and New Year’s Day Day (279). See chart below.

 
Holiday Driving, 2013-2017 (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)
2013 343 44% 334 38% 461 39% 371 39% 360 34% 88 38%
2014 126 51 337 37 347 41 362 42 403 34 355 34
2015 354 36 367 40 366 36 394 35 392 36 280 37
2016 279 36 389 36 397 41 379 36 439 34 318 32
2017 329 NA NA NA NA NA NA NA 463 NA 299 NA

(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).

NA=Data not available.

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

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Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths By Month, 2016

 

Month Deaths Percent of total Rank
January 2,344 7% 12
February 2,421 7 11
March 2,682 8 10
April 2,701 8 9
May 2,980 9 7
June 3,007 9 5
July 3,008 9 4
August 3,106 9 3
September 3,120 9 2
October 3,249 9 1
November 2,998 9 6
December 2,823 8 8
Total 34,439 100%  

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 or texting and being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2017, 3,166 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes. There were 2,935 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 9 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 April 2019, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 18 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota’s law becomes effective on August 1, 2019; Arizona will issue warnings until 2001 when it will issue tickets). 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 38 states and the District of Columbia, and novice drivers 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 Affected By Distracted Drivers, 2017

 

  Crashes Drivers Fatalities
Total fatal crashes 34,247 52,274 37,133
Distracted-affected fatal crashes      
Number of distracted-affected fatal crashes 2,935 2,994 3,166
Percent of total fatal crashes 9% 6% 9%
Cellphone in use in distracted-affected fatal crashes      
Number of cellphone distracted-affected fatal crashes 401 404 434
Percent of fatal distracted-affected crashes 14% 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 distracted-affected crashes, but in only 1.2 percent of the 34,247 fatal crashes reported in 2017.

 
Pedestrian accidents

Pedestrians struck by cars are most often hit while in the crosswalk with the signal on their side, according to an analysis of pedestrian injuries treated at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City. About 8 percent of the injured pedestrians were hurt while using an electronic device, according to the study. The study, which is highlighted in an April 2013 New York Times article, also looked at bicycle injuries. The study was published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians died.

According to NHTSA, 5,977 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2017, a 1.7 percent decrease from 6,080 pedestrian fatalities in 2016. In 2017, one pedestrian was killed every 88 minutes in traffic crashes. Pedestrian deaths accounted for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2017.

In 2017, 32 percent of fatally injured pedestrians had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher. A BAC of 0.08 grams per deciliter was the legal limit for alcohol impairment in all 50 states. In 2017, 17 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher.

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