Car Crash Deaths and Rates

Motor vehicle Fatality Trends

Between 1913 and 2016, the number of automobile deaths in the United States, technically referred to as motor-vehicle deaths (which include all types of motor-vehicles, including passenger cars),  increased 860%, from 4,200 deaths in 1913 to 40,327 in 2016. 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 2016 data report 268.8 million vehicles, 221.7 million licensed drivers and 3.174 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 12.48 per 100,000, representing a 59% improvement.

In 1913, 33.38 people died for every 10,000 vehicles on the road. In 2016, the death rate was 1.5 per 10,000 vehicles, a 95% 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 1.27 deaths per 100 million miles driven.

Despite these historic drops, we cannot remain complacent. While not returning to 1937 levels, car crashes are on the rise. Looking at recent trends, motor vehicle deaths increased 6.8% from 2015 to 2016 following a similar increase of 6.7% from 2014 to 2015.

In 2016, miles traveled increased 2.6% over 2015, the number of registered vehicles increased 2%, and the population grew 0.5%. The mileage death rate increased 4.1%, the vehicle rate rose 4.9%, and the population rate was up 6.2%.

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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 2016 registrations and drivers, which are NSC estimates.