Car Crash Deaths and Rates

Motor vehicle Fatality Trends

Between 1913 and 2017, the number of motor vehicle deaths in the U.S., which include all types of motor vehicles including passenger cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles increased 858%, from 4,200 deaths in 1913 to 40,231 in 2017. However, the role cars play in daily life is vastly different now than when tracking began.

In 1913, there were about 1.3 million vehicles and 2 million drivers, and the number of miles driven was not yet estimated. The latest 2017 data report 273 million vehicles, 225 million licensed drivers and 3.213 billion miles driven annually.

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By all measures, motor vehicle safety has vastly improved since the early 1900s. Driver attitudes and behaviors have changed substantially, as has vehicle safety technology, which makes car travel safer.

The population motor vehicle death rate reached its peak in 1937 with 30.8 deaths per 100,000 population. The current rate is 12.4 per 100,000, representing a 60% improvement.

In 1913, 33.38 people died for every 10,000 vehicles on the road. In 2017, the death rate was 1.47 per 10,000 vehicles, a 96% improvement.

In 1923, the first year miles driven was estimated, the motor vehicle death rate was 18.65 deaths for every 100 million miles driven. Since 1923, the mileage death rate has decreased 93% and now stands at 1.25 deaths per 100 million miles driven.

Despite these historic drops, we cannot remain complacent. While motor vehicle deaths remained nearly unchanged last year, deaths have been increasing over the last few years, 14% since 2011.

From 2011 to 2017, miles traveled increased 9%, the number of registered vehicles increased 8%, and the population grew by more than 4%. The mileage death rate increased 4.2%, the vehicle rate rose 5.8%, and the population rate was up 9.7%.

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Source: Deaths from National Center for Health Statistics except 1964, which are National Safety Council estimates based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. See Technical Appendix for comparability. Motor vehicle registrations, mileage and drivers estimated by the Federal Highway Administration except for 2017 registrations and drivers, which are NSC estimates.