Driving in the United States may be one of the most dangerous things residents do regularly. It is estimated that cars end up killing as many people as guns and severely injure millions every year. With the COVID-19 current situation, the past couple of years has only improved the public health crisis. Although Americans seemed to be driving less in the past year, traffic fatalities and traffic deaths have surged. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles, or about a 13.2-percent decrease.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 42,000 people died in car accidents in 2020, up from 39,107 in 2019. The numbers are relatively higher than the statistics reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as the later ones do not include car deaths in private spaces. While car travel has decreased by 13 percent, the number of accidents has increased. Moreover, the motor vehicle deaths in 2020 are estimated to be the highest in the last 13 years, while a 24 percent spike in roadway death rates is recorded to be the highest in 96 years.
US Car Accident Deaths
The NSC shows other statistics, and they estimate that 4.8 million drivers or passengers were seriously injured in car crashes in 2020, while the cost to society was $474 billion. Eight states from the United States have experienced more than a 15 percent increase in deaths last year: Arkansas (+26%), Connecticut (+22%), District of Columbia (+33%), Georgia (+18%), Mississippi (+19%), Rhode Island (+26%), South Dakota (+33%) and Vermont (+32%).
Oppositely, only nine states have known a drop in deaths: Alaska (-3%), Delaware (-11%), Hawaii (-20%), Idaho (-7%), Maine (-1%), Nebraska (-9%), New Mexico (-4%), North Dakota (-1%) and Wyoming (-13%).
According to the experts, while fewer cars were on the road during the COVID-19 quarantine, people drove at lethal speeds. Other car fatalities may occur due to drunk drivers or drivers not wearing their seat belts. The Road Safety Annual Report 2020 stated that the United States had been ranked among the worst on car fatality rates. Like other significant causes of mortality, people of color were disproportionately affected; last year, more than 23 percent of Black Americans were killed in car accidents, while 11 percent of Native Americans died.
In summary, the traffic fatalities (fatality counts) in the following categories showed large increases in 2020 as compared to 2019:
- On rural local/collector roads (up 11%), urban
- Interstates (up 15%), and urban local/collector
- Roads (up 12%)
- During nighttime (up 11%)
- During the weekend (up 9%)
- In older vehicles ten years or older (up 6%)
- In rollover crashes (up 9%)
- Occupant ejection (up 20%)
- In single-vehicle crashes (up 9%)
- In speeding-related crashes (up 11%)
- In the 16-to-24 age group (up 15%), the 25-to-34 age
- Group (up 18%), and the 35-to-44 age group (up 14%)
- Males (up 9%);
- Unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles (up 15%)
- Black people (up 23%) and
- In police-reported alcohol involvement crashes (up 9%).
Pedestrian Deaths Statistics
While drivers and passenger cars put themselves at risk at all times, pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users, as they walk in the same environments as car drivers do. Sadly, the last decade has seen a considerable increase in pedestrians killed by cars while walking. The records were so high that they accounted for one of the most recent increases in car fatalities in the U.S. As reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 6,205 pedestrians were killed while walking in 2019, suffering an increase of 51 percent than in 2009, where 4.109 pedestrians died. On the other hand, the National Safety Council has estimated a higher number of deaths, namely 7,700 in 2009. No matter how you look at it, though, the car accident death rate is high.
Those who can’t afford to buy cars are less likely to live in areas where it is safer to walk. Although the risk is not evenly distributed, the chances of being involved in car accidents in low-income areas are higher.
On a global scale, almost 1.3 million people die every year worldwide due to car accidents. That’s more than suicides and murders combined, the victims being pedestrians, bikers, or motorcyclists.
American Roads Statistics
It is commonly known that the American roads have been engineered for speed, being the leading cause of traffic fatalities. Speed can make the difference between life and death. For example, a pedestrian has a 10 percent chance of dying if involved in a car accident at 23 miles per hour and a 75 percent chance of dying at 50 miles per hour.
Seventeen of the 100 most dangerous roads in the U.S. are in Florida, 15 in Texas, and 11 in California. The most dangerous road in the United States is Interstate 5 in California, where 584 people have died in 544 deadly car accidents.
The number of deaths on the 100 most dangerous roads accounted for 10% of the fatalities in the entire country from 2015 to 2019.
- California, I-5 – 110 deaths
- Florida, US-1 – 87 deaths
- California, US-101 – 78 deaths
- Texas, I-10 – 59 deaths
- Florida, I-95 – 77 deaths
- Texas, I-35 – 84 deaths
- Florida, US-41 – 80 deaths
- Texas, I-20 – 39 deaths
- Florida, I-75 – 60 deaths
- Florida, US-27 – 64 deaths
There were 109.6 fatalities for every 100 crashes on the country’s 100 deadliest roads, with alcohol present in the largest share of traffic fatalities. The National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database tracks crashes that occur in clear and unclear conditions, including rain, fog, snow, and various other weather events. According to the Annual United States Road Crash Statistics, about 12.4 deaths per 100,000 citizens occur every year.
Is There a Way to Decrease Car Accident Statistics?
While COVID-19 may seem to reduce driving throughout the world, the number of traffic deaths has increased about 7.2 percent from 2019. NHTSA’s analysis shows that main motor vehicle crashes were caused due to speeding, impaired driving, or failure to wear a seat belt.
Federal data shows that Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles last year, or roughly 2.8 trillion miles, said Ken Kolosh, the Safety Council’s statistics manager. ‘Yet the number of deaths rose at an alarming rate. The pandemic appears to be taking our eyes off the ball when it comes to traffic safety,” Kolosh said.
“Safety is the top priority for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Loss of life is unacceptable on our nation’s roadways, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that they are safe. We intend to use all available tools to reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator. “The President’s American Jobs Plan would provide an additional $19 billion in vital funding to improve road safety for all users, including people walking and biking. It will increase funding for existing safety programs and allow for the creation of new ones, with a goal of saving lives.”
There are many ideas on how to bring down car deaths, starting with controlling the speeds on the roads. This can be done by narrowing lanes and adding speed bumps, or changing the legal speed limit. For example, New York City has lowered the speed limit to 25 miles per hour, installed speed cameras, and tested calming traffic measures. By doing these, the city recorded the lowest fatal crashes reports in 2018, with less than 200 deaths. Separately, the suburban city of Fremont, California, decreased fatalities and severe injuries by 45 percent between 2015 and 2020.
Another idea that may sound promising is installing roundabouts. They are more efficient than the traditional intersections at saving lives in the U.S. rural areas. Medians or central turn lanes can also be installed to prevent road deaths.
The ‘road diet’ concept was also proved to be efficient in sparsely populated areas. Road diets may seem complex, but they remove some traffic lanes, create central turn lanes to manage left turns, and add bike lanes and shoulders. These measures are meant to slow down traffic, respectively, to decrease the number of car fatalities.
Safety Tips on How to Avoid Car Fatalities
If you tend to travel at high speed, think about the safety of others or make it back to your loved ones. Here are some safety tips that might help you avoid deadly car accidents:
- Always watch your speeds, and remember to adapt them as needed for traffic patterns or weather.
- Maintain a safe following distance. You should allow yourself at least three or four seconds of reaction time between you and the car in front of you.
- Signal early and make your traffic intentions known. Be aware of tractor-trailers and do not cut them off.
- Unless you are passing, stay in the right lane.
- Do not drink and drive.
- Always remain alert in traffic.
- Turn in your headlights in bad weather.
- Avoid using your phone while driving, or find a method to take calls without diverting your gaze from the road.
- Always take breaks if you feel tired.
It’s not worth risking your life to get somewhere early. Remember that the rush that you feel is only an emotion. The important thing is to get where you want safely.
FAQs on U.S. Car Accident Deaths
How many U.S. citizens have died in car accidents in 2020?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that early estimates show 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020, a 7.2% increase from the year prior. The figure is also the most traffic fatalities since 2007.
What is the number 1 cause of fatal car accidents?
The most significant cause of fatal car accidents is distracted driving. Often found on drivers between 15 and 20 years old, distraction comes in various ways: answering a phone call, writing a message, reaching for something on the floor while driving, looking at others in the car, playing with the radio, or creating live social media videos. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stated that bad judgment or driver errors cause most traffic accidents. Some examples include tailgating, failure to yield, failure to obey traffic signs or signals, and other conscious or unconscious errors in judgment that result in a motor vehicle accident.
Where do most fatal accidents occur?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), most fatal car accidents happen within 25 miles of your home. For nonfatal accidents, more than half (52%)
occur within 5 miles of the home, and around 77% occur within 15 miles of a driver’s home.
What are the worst states for traffic-related fatalities?
Unfortunately, South Carolina has been ranked as the first for the worst state for traffic-related fatalities, with a 1.78 fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Other worst states for traffic-related fatalities are Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Florida, or Kentucky.
Who has the worst traffic in America?
For almost 40 years, Los Angeles has held the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic in the country. Throughout the past four decades, various studies have consistently confirmed that Los Angeles’ traffic congestion is unlike anything else in the nation. LA ranked the 37th most congested city in the world, a study found. The stretch of the five freeways between the 10 and 605 interchanges (located in Boyle Heights and Downey, respectively) is the most congested road in the country—with a typical rush-hour delay of 20 minutes.
What is the busiest interstate in America?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), traffic data from 2011 showed the 405 Freeway — from Interstate 5 down to Long Beach — serves an estimated 379,000 vehicles per day, making it the busiest interstate in America.