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. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that as of 2013 there were 202 million airbag-equipped passenger vehicles on the road in the United States, including 199 million with dual air bags. The agency says that frontal airbags saved the lives of 2,756 occupants age 13 and older in 2016. 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 14,668 lives in 2016. In fatal crashes in 2015, about 80 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 2016 the lives of an estimated 328 children under the age of five were saved by restraints.
  • Motorcycle helmets: NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 802 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: According to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,150 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2017, down about 0.8 percent from 2016. This decrease would be the first decline in traffic fatalities since significant increases were recorded in 2015 and 2016. Vehicle miles travelled is projected to have increased about 1.2 percent. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles travelled is projected to be 1.17, compared to 1.18 in 2016.

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, 2007-2016

Year Fatal Injury Property damage only Total crashes
2007 37,435 1,711,000 4,275,000 6,024,000
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 34,439 NA NA NA

NA=Data not available.

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

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Traffic Deaths, 2007-2016

 

Year  Fatalities Annual percent
change
Fatality rate per
100 million vehicle
miles traveled
Fatality rate
per 100,000
registered vehicles
2007 41,259 -3.4% 1.36 16.02
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 37,461 5.6 1.18 13.01

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

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  • In 2016 distracted driving deaths fell 2.2 percent from 2015 and drowsy driving deaths fell 3.5 percent.
  • There were increases in 2016 for unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants (4.6 percent), speed related fatalities (4.0 percent) and alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (1.7 percent).

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle occupants accounted for 66 percent of traffic deaths in 2015. Motorcycle riders accounted for 14 percent. Pedestrians accounted for another 15 percent; pedalcyclists, bus and other nonoccupants accounted for the remainder.

 
Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths By State, 2015-2016

 

  Number of deaths     Number of deaths  
State 2015 2016 Percent
change
State 2015 2016 Percent
change
Alabama 850 1,038 22.1% Montana 224 190 -15.2%
Alaska 65 84 29.2 Nebraska 246 218 -11.4
Arizona 897 962 7.2 Nevada 326 328 0.6
Arkansas 550 545 -0.9 New Hampshire 114 136 19.3
California 3,387 3,623 7.0 New Jersey 561 601 7.1
Colorado 547 608 11.2 New Mexico 298 402 34.9
Connecticut 270 293 8.5 New York 1,136 1,025 -9.8
Delaware 131 119 -9.2 North Carolina 1,379 1,450 5.1
D.C. 23 27 17.4 North Dakota 131 113 -13.7
Florida 2,938 3,174 8.0 Ohio 1,110 1,132 2.0
Georgia 1,432 1,554 8.5 Oklahoma 645 683 5.9
Hawaii 93 120 29.0 Oregon 446 495 11.0
Idaho 216 253 17.1 Pennsylvania 1,200 1,188 -1.0
Illinois 998 1,082 8.4 Rhode Island 45 51 13.3
Indiana 817 821 0.5 South Carolina 979 1,015 3.7
Iowa 320 404 26.3 South Dakota 134 116 -13.4
Kansas 355 429 20.8 Tennessee 962 1,041 8.2
Kentucky 761 834 9.6 Texas 3,582 3,776 5.4
Louisiana 752 757 0.7 Utah 278 281 1.1
Maine 156 161 3.2 Vermont 57 62 8.8
Maryland 520 505 -2.9 Virginia 754 760 0.8
Massachusetts 345 389 12.8 Washington 551 537 -2.5
Michigan 967 1,064 10.0 West Virginia 268 269 0.4
Minnesota 411 392 -4.6 Wisconsin 566 607 7.2
Mississippi 677 690 1.9 Wyoming 145 112 -22.8
Missouri 870 945 8.6 United States 35,485 37,461 5.6%

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, 2016

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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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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Crashes By First Harmful Event, Type Of Collision And Crash Severity, 2015

  Crash severity    
  Fatal Injury Property damage only Total crashes
Type of collision Number Percent of
total fatal
crashes
Number Percent of
total injury
crashes
Number Percent of
total property
damage only
crashes
Number Percent of
total crashes
Collision with moving motor vehicle                
Angle 5,778 18.0% 453,000 26.4% 849,000 18.7% 1,308,000 20.8%
Rear end 2,203 6.8 556,000 32.4 1,543,000 33.9 2,101,000 33.4
Sideswipe 824 2.6 104,000 6.1 670,000 14.7 775,000 12.3
Head on 3,278 10.2 70,000 4.1 70,000 1.5 143,000 2.3
Other/unknown 156 0.5 9,000 0.5 73,000 1.6 82,000 1.3
Total 12,239 38.0% 1,193,000 69.5% 3,204,000 70.4% 4,409,000 70.0%
Collision with fixed object                
Pole/post 1,427 4.4 49,000 2.8 132,000 2.9 182,000 2.9
Culvert/curb/ditch 2,477 7.7 59,000 3.4 151,000 3.3 212,000 3.4
Shrubbery/tree 2,346 7.3 43,000 2.5 66,000 1.5 112,000 1.8
Guard rail 909 2.8 28,000 1.7 75,000 1.6 104,000 1.7
Embankment 911 2.8 20,000 1.2 27,000 0.6 47,000 0.8
Bridge 194 0.6 3,000 0.2 13,000 0.3 16,000 0.3
Other/unknown 1,675 5.2 66,000 3.9 185,000 4.1 252,000 4.0
Total 9,939 30.9% 268,000 15.6% 648,000 14.2% 926,000 14.7%
Collision with object, not fixed                
Parked motor vehicle 348 1.1 51,000 2.9 316,000 6.9 367,000 5.8
Animal 182 0.6 13,000 0.7 265,000 5.8 278,000 4.4
Pedestrian 4,981 15.5 64,000 3.7 1,000 * 70,000 1.1
Pedalcyclist 802 2.5 45,000 2.6 5,000 0.1 50,000 0.8
Train 92 0.3 (1) (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Other/unknown 356 1.1 15,000 0.9 66,000 1.5 82,000 1.3
     Total 6,761 21.0% 188,000 10.9% 653,000 14.4% 847,000 13.5%
Noncollision                
Rollover 2,823 8.8 59,000 3.4 28,000 0.6 90,000 1.4
Other/unknown 380 1.2 8,000 0.5 15,000 0.3 24,000 0.4
     Total 3,203 10 67,000 3.9 44,000 1 114,000 1.8
Total 32,166 (2) 100.0% 1,715,000 100.0% 4,548,000 100.0% 6,296,000 100.0%

(1) Less than 500 or 0.05 percent.
(2) Includes 16 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 2015 October had the most fatal crashes, February had the least, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In 2015, 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 2015, Labor Day was the holiday period with the most motor vehicle deaths (394), followed by Thanksgiving Day (386), Memorial Day (367), Independence Day (366), New Year’s Day (355) and Christmas Day (273). See chart below.

 
Holiday Driving, 2011-2015

  Holiday period (1)
  New Year’s Day Memorial Day Independence Day Labor Day Thanksgiving Day Christmas Day
Year Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
Deaths (2) Percent alcohol-
impaired (3)
2011 304 (3) 43% 389 (3) 40% 405 (3) 37% 373 (3) 37% 375 (4) 32% 256 (3) 36%
2012 348 (3) 39 367 (3) 44 157 (1) 45 378 (3) 38 405 (4) 41 351 (4) 35
2013 343 (4) 44 334 (3) 38 461 (4) 39 371 (3) 39 360 (4) 34 88 (1) 37
2014 126 (1) 53 227 (3) 36 347 (3) 41 362 (3) 40 403 (4) 35 355 (4) 34
2015 355 (4) NA 367 (3) NA 366 (3) NA 394 (3) NA 386 (4) NA 273 (3) 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.
(2) Number in parentheses refers to the number of whole days in the holiday period.
(3) 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, 2015

 

Month Deaths Percent of total Rank
January 2,573 7% 11
February 2,153 6 12
March 2,609 7 10
April 2,642 8 9
May 3,113 9 5
June 3,010 9 7
July 3,266 9 3
August 3,319 9 1
September 3,123 9 4
October 3,271 9 2
November 2,954 8 8
December 3,059 9 6
Total 35,092 100  

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

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Distracted driving

Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, eating, conversing with passengers 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 2015, 3,477 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes, and 391,000 people were injured. There were 3,196 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation, 15 percent of injury crashes and 14 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in 2015.

However, texting bans may not reduce crash rates, according to a Highway Loss Data Institute 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.

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, 2016

  Crashes Drivers Fatalities
Total fatal crashes 34,439 51,914 37,461
Distracted-affected fatal crashes      
Number of distracted-affected
fatal crashes
3,157 3,210 3,450
Percent of total fatal crashes 9% 6% 9%
Cellphone in use in distracted-affected
fatal crashes
     
Number of cellphone distracted-affected
fatal crashes
444 457 486
Percent of fatal distracted-affected crashes 14% 14% 14%

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

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  • Distraction was a factor in 10 percent of fatal crashes reported in 2015.
  • Cellphone use was a factor in 14 percent of all fatal distracted-affected crashes, but in only 1 percent of the 32,166 fatal crashes reported in 2015.

 
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, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2016, a 9 percent increase from 5,495 pedestrian fatalities in 2015. Pedestrian fatalities in 2016 were the highest since 1990. In 2016, one pedestrian was killed every 1.5 hours in traffic crashes. Pedestrian deaths accounted for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2016.

In 2016, 34 percent of fatally injured pedestrians had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.1 percent or higher.

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