Car Accident Statistics
Car accident statistics are how the government, safety agencies and insurance companies follow trends, decide policy and shape driving’s future. Statistics that show trends in fatalities, drunk driving, seat belt use, pedestrian accidents, and even what type of roads accidents happen on often lead to policies that make driving safer.
Drivers, too, can learn from statistics, particularly how to not be among the negative numbers.
Since 1988, the number of property damage-only accidents has inched up, while the number of accidents with injuries has decreased. The percentage of accidents that are fatal has remained a steady 0.5%-0.6% of all accidents over the last 35 years.
The primary agency that compiles car accident statistics is the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, with input from a number of other sources. The way car accident statistics are compiled and measured has changed over the years, but the still clearly show that driving has gotten safer. Numbers of vehicle miles traveled, a statistic used to measure how many people are on the roads, have increased, as have number of registered vehicles and drivers, but the number of overall accidents has not gone up. A focus on safer driving habits, particularly those relating to alcohol and restraints, have cut down on the number of accidents, as well as severity. Safer vehicles also play a part.
Some big-picture car accident statistics:
- Projections are that 42,915 people died in vehicle accidents in 2021, and numbers for the first three months of 2022 are similar. (It can take more than a year for the NHTSA to compile accident statistics).
- Car accident fatalities, which had been steadily decreasing for decades, increased for seven quarters, beginning with the third quarter of 2020, before showing a slight decline in the second quarter of 2022 and another in the third quarter.
- There were 5,250,837 police-reported motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. in 2020; 30% resulted in injury and 0.7% were fatal.
- Approximately 60% of property-damage-only crashes and 32% of injury crashes (mostly involving minor or moderate injuries) are not reported to the police, the NHTSA estimates.
- 58% of fatal crashes are single-car accidents, while crashes with non-fatal injuries comprise 33% of single-car accidents and 32% of property damage-only accidents.
- Collisions with other cars on the road are the most common type of accident, responsible for 66.4% of all accidents. Collisions with fixed objects and crashes that don’t involve a collision account for 20% of all accidents, but they make up 39% of fatal accidents.
- 30% of all fatal crashes involved at least one driver with blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher; 55% of fatal crashes between midnight and 2:59 a.m. involved alcohol-impaired driving.
- Speed was a factor in 29% of fatalities in 2020 (both alcohol and speeding can be a factor in the same accident).
- Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people 16 to 20 years old, and in 2020, specifically the leading cause of death for people ages 6, 11, 18, 20, and 21.
- The $340 billion cost of motor vehicle crashes represents the equivalent of $1,035 for each of the 328 million people in the U.S.
Number of Car Accidents Per Year
The number of vehicle accidents in the United States a year has ranged between 5 million and close to 7 million for decades. There were 5,250,837 vehicle accidents in 2020, compared to 6,886,800 in 1988. The way car accident data is sampled has changed over the years, so comparisons of the overall accident numbers in the years before 2015 are not direct comparison to those after, but the numbers still show a mostly downward trend during that era. Since 2015, accidents increased, but so did vehicle miles traveled, before a sharp drop in both in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Fatal is number of accidents, not people killed, which we will look at in a following section).
Fatal Car Accidents by Year
In 1966, 50,894 people died in car accidents in the U.S. At the time, the country’s population was 196.5 million, and that number represented 25.89 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2020, 38,824 people died, and with the country’s population at 329.4 million, that represents 11.78 people per 100,000.
While 2021 and 2022 numbers aren’t final, projections are that 42,915 people died in vehicle accidents in 2021, and numbers for the first three months of 2022 are similar.
Aside from the increases of the last two years, fatal car accidents, as well as the number of people who die in vehicle accidents a year, have dropped steadily over the decades. Laws that make driving and traveling in a car safer are credited with the decline, particularly those regarding impaired driving and seat belt use.
Impaired driving has historically been a major cause of fatal vehicle accidents (along with speeding). Laws regarding drinking and driving have always been up to states, but in 1982, Congress began offering grants to encourage states to enact laws that set legal blood alcohol limits. In 2001, Congress required states to pass a .08 blood alcohol level law by 2004 in order to get federal highway transportation money.
The federal government first required seat belts be installed in all cars in 1968, and over the years, states have required that drivers and passengers use them. Now 49 states, with the exception of New Hampshire, require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts.
Both BAC and seat belt and restraint laws are regarded as saving thousands of lives a year. The per-100,000 rate first dropped below 25 in 1974, when it was 21.2, representing the increase in seat belts in cars after the 1968 requirement. The number took a sharp dive again, going below 21 for the first time, to 18.97, in 1982, when incentives for states to strengthen impaired driving laws began to take effect. In 1982, 21,113 – 48% -- of the people killed in vehicle accidents were in accidents in which a driver’s BAC was .08 or more. The percentage reached 32% in 1995 and has decreased in small increments since then. Since 1982, the percentage rises by about 5% if a driver had any alcohol at all in their system.
|Year||Fatal||Deaths||Per 100,000 pop.||BAC over .08|
Fatal Accidents with Alcohol Impairment, Speeding
Alcohol impairment was a factor in 30% of accidents in 2020, causing 40% of car accident deaths. Speed was a factor in 29% (one accident may include both factors).
Deaths in accidents where alcohol was a factor: 11,654
Deaths in accidents where speeding was a factor: 11,258
Fatal Accident by Type
In 2020, 58% of fatal accidents involved just one car.
The more direct a collision is with another car, the more likely an accident is to be fatal. Head-on collisions were responsible for 10.5% of fatal accidents.
A breakdown of the types of fatal accident:
Collision with another vehicle: 38.4%
Collision with fixed object (tree, pole, culvert, embankment, bridge, etc.): 30.6%
Collision with non-fixed object (pedestrian, bicyclist, train, parked car, etc.): 22.6%
No collision: 8.5%, with 7.5% rollovers and the rest “unknown.”
Car Accident Victims
The breakdown of the 38,824 car accident fatalities and 2,093,246 injuries in 2020 shows that drivers are at the greatest risk of being killed or injured. But passengers, and those who aren’t occupants of the vehicle, also aren’t safe in a crash.
Fatal Accident Victims
Bodily Injury Accident Victims
Car Accidents by Age
Younger people are more likely to be drivers in accidents, with the rate of licensed drivers in the 16-20 age group the highest and the 21-24 age group next. Drivers 16-24 have the highest rate of involvement in fatal accidents per licensed driver.
People 21 to 24 years old had the highest fatality rate and the highest injury rate. Children 5 to 9 years old had the lowest fatality rate, and children under 5 years old had the lowest injury rate.
The crash statistics for 2020 show the number of drivers in the age group who were involved in a crash, as well as the involvement rate, which is the number of licensed drivers in the age group involved in a crash per 100,000.
Overall Crashes by Driver Age
|Age||Crashes||Involvement per 100,000|
|< 16||42,177||Not available|
Fatal Crashes by Driver Age
|Age||Crashes||Involvement per 100,000|
|< 16||4,440||Not available|
Car Accident Deaths by Age
|Age||Deaths||Per 100,000 Population|
Car Accident Injuries by Age
|Age||Injuries||Per 100,000 Population|
Car Accidents by Gender
There were 9,125,456 drivers involved in the 5 million-plus vehicle accidents in 2020, with 53,890 involved in fatal accidents and another 2,840,887 in accidents that caused injury. Drivers involved in accidents are male more often than female, with 4,792 per 100,000 of men with licenses involved in an accident. Men are also more likely to be killed in an accident than women, at a rate of 17.28 per 100,000 U.S. male population. When it comes to injuries, though, there isn’t as large of a gender gap.
Car Accidents by Driver Gender
|Gender||Drivers||Per 100,000 Gender Drivers|
Fatal Car Accidents by Driver Gender
|Gender||Drivers||Per 100,000 Gender Drivers|
Bodily Injury Car Accidents by Driver Gender
|Gender||Drivers||Per 100,000 Gender Population|
Car Accident Deaths by Gender
|Gender||Deaths||Per 100,000 Gender Population|
Car Accident Injuries by Gender
|Gender||Injuries||Per 100,000 Gender Population|
Car Accidents by State
There were 35,766 fatal accidents in the U.S. in 2020, resulting in 38,824 deaths. The death rate was 11.7 per 100,00 people, and 1.34 per million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The state with the fewest car accident fatalities in 2020 was Massachusetts, with 4.9 deaths per 100,000 people. The state with the most was Mississippi, with 25.4.
|State||Fatal Accidents||Fatalities||Per 100,000 pop.||VMT|
Car Accident FAQs
Collision with another vehicle is the most common type of car accident, with 66.4% of all accidents involving a collusion with another vehicle. Some 38.1% of fatal accidents are collisions with other cars, 66.3% of nonfatal injury accidents are and 66.7% of property damage accidents are.
Rear-end collisions are “the first harmful event” in 27.8% of all accidents. (First harmful event is considered by the NHTSA the first element of a crash that causes injury or property damage.) Another 23.6% of all accidents were collisions at an angle, and 11.8% were sideswipes.
The more direct the collision, the more serious the accident. Head-on collisions were responsible for 10.5% of fatal accidents, 3.5% of nonfatal injury accidents and 1.5% of property damage only accidents.
There are an average 14,386 accidents across the U.S. a day, with 106 people killed and 6,235 people injured, including 18 pedestrians killed and 105 injured. Of the accidents where someone was killed, 32 a day are alcohol-involved.
In short, drivers. Driver behavior is responsible for as much as 94% of accidents, a National Vehicle Crash Causation Survey found. That doesn’t mean the driver was necessarily doing something wrong, or that the weather or something else didn’t play a part. But inattention to surroundings, driving too fast for the area or elements and/or bad decisions are the cause of most crashes. When it comes to fatal crashes, alcohol, speed, and driver distraction are the top causes.
Most vehicles in single- and two-vehicle crashes were going straight before the crash, according to the NHTSA. What happened next determined crash severity: negotiating a curve for fatal crashes, turning left for injury crashes, and stopped in a traffic lane for property-damage-only crashes.
The most accident-prone hours on weekdays are 3 p.m. to 9:59 p.m. On weekends it’s 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Of the 35,766 fatal crashes in 2020, 17,912, almost half, happened between 3 p.m. and midnight.
Over, 1.2 million of the more than 5.6 million crashes in 2020 happened between 3 and 5:59 p.m. Noon to 3 p.m. was the second most crash prone time of day, with 9.8 million happening then. Friday is the most crash-prone day of the week, with 884,231 accidents. The day with the fewest accidents was Sunday, then they steadily increase as the week wears on: Monday, 725,170; Tuesday, 755,615; Wednesday, 793,974; Thursday, 819,832. The number of accidents drops on Saturday to 692,859.
It's a different story for fatal accidents, though. The deadliest day is Saturday, with 6.162, followed by Sunday (most before 3 a.m.), at 5,591. The rest of the week is Monday, 4,474; Tuesday, 4,521; Wednesday, 4,689; Thursday, 4,827; Friday, 5,502.
January and February are the highest-accident months, with 552,937, representing 211.98 per million vehicle miles traveled in January, and 520,221, representing 214.35 VMT in February. The overall VMT is 180.84.
June is the biggest month for fatal accidents, with 3,374 and a 1.35 VMT. The national average VMT for fatal accidents in 2020 was 1.23. The fewest fatal accidents were in January, when there were 2,485, for an 0.95 VMT.
You can expect more alcohol-impaired drivers on the roads on holidays. There were 493 fatal accidents over the three-day Fourth of July holiday in 2020, with alcohol impairment a factor in 41%. On the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend there were 406 fatal accidents, with 41% involving alcohol impairment. But the most dangerous day to be on the road was New Year’s Day. While the number of fatal accidents was the average for the year – 106 – 49% involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
Most car accidents happen close to home. While this information isn’t measured annually, an often-cited 2001 Progressive Insurance and Dolphin Technologies' study found that 52% of accidents are within five miles of a driver's home and 69% are within 10 miles. An NHTSA study on seatbelt use a few years later found similar results. And a study of trauma hospital treatment found that the median of accidents for those injured and treated at a hospital emergency room was 4.6 miles (median means half were more and half were less.). The median for vehicle accident fatalities was 5.5 miles. Most experts agree that most peoples’ travel in general tends to be close to home, and drivers are also more likely to let their guard down in familiar territory.
There were 228,195,802 licensed drivers in the U.S. in 2020. Only around 3.9% were in an accident that was reported to the police. A total 9,125,456 drivers were involved in the 5.6 million accidents in the U.S. in 2020, representing 3,999 of every 100,000 with a license. It’s likely that some were in more than one accident, meaning the overall total is lower.
Of the drivers in fatal crashes, 41,365 had a valid license and 9,559 had an invalid license.
Other car accident statistics for drivers in fatal crashes (one driver may represent more than one category):
- 2% had no previous driving convictions
- 6% had a previous speeding convictions
- 5% had a previous harmful moving conviction other than speeding
- 8% had a previous recorded crash
- 1% had a previous record license suspension or revocation
- 4% had a previous operating while impaired conviction.
- Haas, B. et al (2015, April) Close to home: An analysis of the relationship between location of residence and location of injury. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375775/
- N.A. (2022, March 2) Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813266
- N.A. (2022, October) Traffic Safety Facts 2020 a Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813375
- N.A. (ND) Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Laws. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/calculator/factsheet/seatbelt.html
- N.A. (ND) NHTSA – Final Report Legislative History of .08 per se Laws. Retrieved from https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/pub/alcohol-laws/08history/1_introduction.htm
- N.A. (2022 July) Quick Facts. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813321
- N.A. (2022, October 25) BAC Legal Limits in Different States Counties & Cities. Retrieved from https://alcohol.org/dui/bac-limits/
- N.A. (2023, February) The Economic and Society Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2019. (Revised). Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813403