Yearly snapshot | 2008

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among Americans 3-36 years old. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2006. WISQARS leading cause of death reports, 1999-2006. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available: http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcaus10.html. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the total societal cost of these crashes exceeds $200 billion annually. Blincoe, L.J.; Seay, A.G.; Zaloshnja, E.; Miller, T.R.; Romano, E.O.; Luchter, S.; and Spicer R.S. 2002. The economic impact of motor vehicle crashes 2000. Report no. DOT HS-809-446. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Contributing to the death toll are alcohol, speed, lack of safety belt use, and other problematic driver behaviors. Death rates vary by vehicle type, driver age and gender, and other factors.

In 1975, the U.S. Department of Transportation started an annual census of motor vehicle deaths, recording information on crash type, vehicle type, road type, driver characteristics, and a variety of other factors. Institute researchers analyze these data each year to quantify the public health problem of motor vehicle deaths.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Trends

A total of 37,261 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2008. These deaths occurred in 34,017 crashes involving 50,430 motor vehicles. This is the lowest loss of life on our highways since 1975, the first year national records were collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Number of deaths, crashes, and motor vehicles in fatal crashes, 1975-2008
Year Deaths Crashes Motor vehicles
1975 44,525 39,161 55,534
1976 45,523 39,747 56,084
1977 47,878 42,211 60,516
1978 50,331 44,433 64,144
1979 51,093 45,223 64,762
1980 51,091 45,284 63,485
1981 49,301 44,000 62,699
1982 43,945 39,092 56,455
1983 42,589 37,976 55,106
1984 44,257 39,631 57,972
1985 43,825 39,196 58,272
1986 46,087 41,090 60,792
1987 46,390 41,438 61,836
1988 47,087 42,130 62,703
1989 45,582 40,741 60,870
1990 44,599 39,836 59,292
1991 41,508 36,937 54,795
1992 39,250 34,942 52,227
1993 40,150 35,780 53,777
1994 40,716 36,254 54,911
1995 41,817 37,241 56,524
1996 42,065 37,494 57,347
1997 42,013 37,324 57,060
1998 41,501 37,107 56,922
1999 41,717 37,140 56,820
2000 41,945 37,526 57,594
2001 42,196 37,862 57,918
2002 43,005 38,491 58,426
2003 42,884 38,477 58,877
2004 42,836 38,444 58,729
2005 43,510 39,252 59,495
2006 42,708 38,648 58,094
2007 41,259 37,435 56,253
2008 37,261 34,017 50,430

Although the U.S. population has been growing steadily since 1975, the rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 population has declined by 41 percent. During the past decade, the death rate increased for motorcyclists, but decreased for occupants of passenger vehicles (cars, pickups, SUVs, and vans) and pedestrians, and was essentially unchanged for bicyclists and occupants of large trucks.

Motor vehicle crash deaths and deaths per 100,000 people, 1975-2008

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by type, 1975-2008
Year Population Passenger vehicle occupants Pedestrians Motorcyclists Bicyclists Large truck occupants All motor vehicle deaths*
Num Rate Num Rate Num Rate Num Rate Num Rate Num Rate
1975 215,973,199 30,601 14.2 7,516 3.5 3,106 1.4 1,003 0.5 916 0.4 44,525 20.6
1976 218,035,164 31,724 14.5 7,427 3.4 3,232 1.5 914 0.4 1,100 0.5 45,523 20.9
1977 220,239,425 32,823 14.9 7,732 3.5 4,004 1.8 922 0.4 1,229 0.6 47,878 21.7
1978 222,584,545 34,923 15.7 7,795 3.5 4,448 2.0 892 0.4 1,315 0.6 50,331 22.6
1979 225,055,487 35,026 15.6 8,096 3.6 4,712 2.1 932 0.4 1,372 0.6 51,093 22.7
1980 227,224,719 34,996 15.4 8,070 3.6 4,955 2.2 965 0.4 1,183 0.5 51,091 22.5
1981 229,465,608 33,711 14.7 7,837 3.4 4,737 2.1 936 0.4 1,082 0.5 49,301 21.5
1982 231,664,496 29,656 12.8 7,331 3.2 4,267 1.8 864 0.4 917 0.4 43,945 19.0
1983 233,791,903 29,154 12.5 6,826 2.9 4,099 1.8 830 0.4 960 0.4 42,589 18.2
1984 235,824,783 30,093 12.8 7,025 3.0 4,425 1.9 838 0.4 1,040 0.4 44,257 18.8
1985 237,923,732 29,847 12.5 6,808 2.9 4,415 1.9 869 0.4 941 0.4 43,825 18.4
1986 240,132,841 32,224 13.4 6,779 2.8 4,309 1.8 929 0.4 892 0.4 46,087 19.2
1987 242,289,023 33,145 13.7 6,745 2.8 3,832 1.6 940 0.4 821 0.3 46,390 19.1
1988 244,498,836 34,105 13.9 6,870 2.8 3,491 1.4 901 0.4 886 0.4 47,087 19.3
1989 246,819,119 33,599 13.6 6,556 2.7 3,030 1.2 822 0.3 822 0.3 45,582 18.5
1990 249,464,396 32,711 13.1 6,482 2.6 3,128 1.3 853 0.3 684 0.3 44,599 17.9
1991 252,153,092 30,810 12.2 5,801 2.3 2,702 1.1 836 0.3 650 0.3 41,508 16.5
1992 255,029,699 29,457 11.6 5,549 2.2 2,291 0.9 717 0.3 580 0.2 39,250 15.4
1993 257,782,608 29,994 11.6 5,649 2.2 2,346 0.9 806 0.3 590 0.2 40,150 15.6
1994 260,327,021 30,820 11.8 5,489 2.1 2,215 0.9 796 0.3 658 0.3 40,716 15.6
1995 262,803,276 31,913 12.1 5,584 2.1 2,138 0.8 828 0.3 634 0.2 41,817 15.9
1996 265,228,572 32,353 12.2 5,449 2.1 2,077 0.8 761 0.3 602 0.2 42,065 15.9
1997 267,783,607 32,343 12.1 5,321 2.0 2,056 0.8 811 0.3 717 0.3 42,013 15.7
1998 270,248,003 31,781 11.8 5,228 1.9 2,227 0.8 757 0.3 739 0.3 41,501 15.4
1999 272,690,813 32,008 11.7 4,939 1.8 2,419 0.9 750 0.3 747 0.3 41,717 15.3
2000 282,192,162 32,109 11.4 4,763 1.7 2,829 1.0 689 0.2 737 0.3 41,945 14.9
2001 285,102,075 31,938 11.2 4,901 1.7 3,123 1.1 729 0.3 691 0.2 42,196 14.8
2002 287,941,220 32,724 11.4 4,851 1.7 3,187 1.1 663 0.2 675 0.2 43,005 14.9
2003 290,788,976 32,166 11.1 4,774 1.6 3,641 1.3 626 0.2 703 0.2 42,884 14.7
2004 293,655,404 31,750 10.8 4,675 1.6 3,904 1.3 722 0.2 743 0.3 42,836 14.6
2005 296,410,404 31,455 10.6 4,892 1.7 4,460 1.5 784 0.3 758 0.3 43,510 14.7
2006 299,398,484 30,628 10.2 4,795 1.6 4,699 1.6 769 0.3 774 0.3 42,708 14.3
2007 301,621,157 29,155 9.7 4,699 1.6 5,050 1.7 699 0.2 745 0.2 41,259 13.7
2008 304,059,724 25,428 8.4 4,378 1.4 5,091 1.7 714 0.2 617 0.2 37,261 12.3
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-eight percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2008 were passenger vehicle occupants, 12 percent were pedestrians, 14 percent were motorcyclists, 2 percent were bicyclists, and 2 percent were occupants of large trucks. More motorcyclists were killed in 2008 than in any year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting fatal crash data in 1975. In contrast, at 25,428, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2008 than in any year in this time period.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by type, 1975-2008
Year Passenger vehicle occupants Pedestrians Motorcyclists Bicyclists Large truck occupants Other All motor vehicle deaths
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
1975 30,601 69 7,516 17 3,106 7 1,003 2 916 2 1,383 3 44,525
1976 31,724 70 7,427 16 3,232 7 914 2 1,100 2 1,126 2 45,523
1977 32,823 69 7,732 16 4,004 8 922 2 1,229 3 1,168 2 47,878
1978 34,923 69 7,795 15 4,448 9 892 2 1,315 3 958 2 50,331
1979 35,026 69 8,096 16 4,712 9 932 2 1,372 3 955 2 51,093
1980 34,996 68 8,070 16 4,955 10 965 2 1,183 2 922 2 51,091
1981 33,711 68 7,837 16 4,737 10 936 2 1,082 2 998 2 49,301
1982 29,656 67 7,331 17 4,267 10 864 2 917 2 910 2 43,945
1983 29,154 68 6,826 16 4,099 10 830 2 960 2 720 2 42,589
1984 30,093 68 7,025 16 4,425 10 838 2 1,040 2 836 2 44,257
1985 29,847 68 6,808 16 4,415 10 869 2 941 2 945 2 43,825
1986 32,224 70 6,779 15 4,309 9 929 2 892 2 954 2 46,087
1987 33,145 71 6,745 15 3,832 8 940 2 821 2 907 2 46,390
1988 34,105 72 6,870 15 3,491 7 901 2 886 2 834 2 47,087
1989 33,599 74 6,556 14 3,030 7 822 2 822 2 753 2 45,582
1990 32,711 73 6,482 15 3,128 7 853 2 684 2 741 2 44,599
1991 30,810 74 5,801 14 2,702 7 836 2 650 2 709 2 41,508
1992 29,457 75 5,549 14 2,291 6 717 2 580 1 656 2 39,250
1993 29,994 75 5,649 14 2,346 6 806 2 590 1 765 2 40,150
1994 30,820 76 5,489 13 2,215 5 796 2 658 2 738 2 40,716
1995 31,913 76 5,584 13 2,138 5 828 2 634 2 720 2 41,817
1996 32,353 77 5,449 13 2,077 5 761 2 602 1 823 2 42,065
1997 32,343 77 5,321 13 2,056 5 811 2 717 2 765 2 42,013
1998 31,781 77 5,228 13 2,227 5 757 2 739 2 769 2 41,501
1999 32,008 77 4,939 12 2,419 6 750 2 747 2 854 2 41,717
2000 32,109 77 4,763 11 2,829 7 689 2 737 2 818 2 41,945
2001 31,938 76 4,901 12 3,123 7 729 2 691 2 814 2 42,196
2002 32,724 76 4,851 11 3,187 7 663 2 675 2 905 2 43,005
2003 32,166 75 4,774 11 3,641 8 626 1 703 2 974 2 42,884
2004 31,750 74 4,675 11 3,904 9 722 2 743 2 1,042 2 42,836
2005 31,455 72 4,892 11 4,460 10 784 2 758 2 1,161 3 43,510
2006 30,628 72 4,795 11 4,699 11 769 2 774 2 1,043 2 42,708
2007 29,155 71 4,699 11 5,050 12 699 2 745 2 911 2 41,259
2008 25,428 68 4,378 12 5,091 14 714 2 617 2 1,033 3 37,261

In 2008, the rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled reached an all-time low of 1.25. This is compared to a rate of 3.35 in 1975. Federal Highway Administration. 2010. Highway statistics, 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

Motor vehicle crash deaths and deaths per 100 million miles traveled, 1975-2008

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled, 1975-2008
Year Deaths Miles travelled (millions) Rate
1975 44,525 1,330,074 3.35
1976 45,523 1,409,163 3.23
1977 47,878 1,476,567 3.24
1978 50,331 1,548,213 3.25
1979 51,093 1,529,133 3.34
1980 51,091 1,520,857 3.36
1981 49,301 1,550,271 3.18
1982 43,945 1,592,481 2.76
1983 42,589 1,649,106 2.58
1984 44,257 1,716,768 2.58
1985 43,825 1,774,762 2.47
1986 46,087 1,838,240 2.51
1987 46,390 1,924,327 2.41
1988 47,087 2,025,586 2.32
1989 45,582 2,107,040 2.16
1990 44,599 2,147,501 2.08
1991 41,508 2,172,214 1.91
1992 39,250 2,239,828 1.75
1993 40,150 2,296,585 1.75
1994 40,716 2,357,588 1.73
1995 41,817 2,422,775 1.73
1996 42,065 2,482,202 1.69
1997 42,013 2,560,373 1.64
1998 41,501 2,625,367 1.58
1999 41,717 2,691,335 1.55
2000 41,945 2,749,803 1.53
2001 42,196 2,781,462 1.52
2002 43,005 2,855,756 1.51
2003 42,884 2,890,893 1.48
2004 42,836 2,962,513 1.45
2005 43,510 2,989,807 1.46
2006 42,708 3,014,116 1.42
2007 41,259 3,032,399 1.36
2008 37,261 2,973,509 1.25

Age and gender

The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in 2008 was especially high among 16-24 year-olds. At all ages, males had higher death rates than females. Males ages 20-24 had the highest rate of motor vehicle crash deaths.

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by age and gender, 2008
Age Male Female Total*
Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate
< 13 27,071,742 608 2.2 25,858,037 435 1.7 52,929,779 1,045 2.0
13-15 6,350,531 363 5.7 6,045,359 224 3.7 12,395,890 588 4.7
16-19 8,874,432 2,318 26.1 8,439,985 1,146 13.6 17,314,417 3,466 20.0
20-24 10,845,428 3,840 35.4 10,213,553 1,131 11.1 21,058,981 4,971 23.6
25-29 10,940,956 2,873 26.3 10,392,787 825 7.9 21,333,743 3,698 17.3
30-34 9,959,083 2,091 21.0 9,638,739 590 6.1 19,597,822 2,681 13.7
35-39 10,568,801 1,910 18.1 10,424,980 673 6.5 20,993,781 2,583 12.3
40-44 10,745,556 2,105 19.6 10,761,793 726 6.7 21,507,349 2,831 13.2
45-49 11,314,075 2,186 19.3 11,565,799 847 7.3 22,879,874 3,033 13.3
50-54 10,538,558 1,974 18.7 10,953,633 743 6.8 21,492,191 2,717 12.6
55-59 9,014,715 1,624 18.0 9,568,730 613 6.4 18,583,445 2,238 12.0
60-64 7,235,924 1,277 17.6 7,866,812 520 6.6 15,102,736 1,798 11.9
65-69 5,306,217 843 15.9 6,042,465 422 7.0 11,348,682 1,265 11.1
70-74 3,958,711 752 19.0 4,815,548 447 9.3 8,774,259 1,199 13.7
75-79 3,096,817 694 22.4 4,178,346 435 10.4 7,275,163 1,130 15.5
80-84 2,239,493 547 24.4 3,510,351 433 12.3 5,749,844 980 17.0
≥ 85 1,863,565 547 29.4 3,858,203 412 10.7 5,721,768 959 16.8
Total* 149,924,604 26,616 17.8 154,135,120 10,631 6.9 304,059,724 37,261 12.3
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Seat belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists, seat belt use was 84 percent among front seat occupants in 2009[ Error ] and 74 percent among rear seat occupants in 2008. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2009. Seat belt use in rear seats in 2008. Report no. DOT HS-811-133. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. Belt use is much lower among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants, hovering around 50 percent for the past several years.

Seat belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants aged 13 and over by seating position
  Passenger Driver
Belt used Unbelted Unknown Belt used Unbelted Unknown
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num % Num %
1989 1,862 20 6,670 70 956 10 4,343 19 15,813 70 2,380 11
1990 1,830 20 6,561 70 976 10 4,638 21 15,053 69 2,253 10
1991 1,997 22 6,030 68 851 10 4,976 24 13,585 66 1,982 10
1992 2,042 24 5,701 67 790 9 5,255 27 12,477 64 1,827 9
1993 2,375 27 5,492 64 778 9 5,877 29 12,220 61 1,925 10
1994 2,564 29 5,423 62 731 8 6,538 32 12,332 60 1,759 9
1995 2,642 29 5,577 62 791 9 6,973 33 12,692 59 1,772 8
1996 2,750 30 5,706 62 807 9 7,368 34 12,331 57 1,919 9
1997 2,867 31 5,497 60 810 9 7,561 35 12,288 57 1,847 9
1998 2,814 32 5,169 59 725 8 7,797 36 12,033 56 1,786 8
1999 2,748 32 5,249 60 700 8 7,834 36 12,252 56 1,793 8
2000 2,957 33 5,212 58 744 8 8,199 38 11,841 54 1,754 8
2001 2,844 32 5,178 59 737 8 8,509 39 11,638 53 1,700 8
2002 3,151 35 5,093 57 687 8 8,786 39 12,028 53 1,705 8
2003 3,127 36 4,851 55 773 9 9,239 42 11,274 51 1,666 8
2004 3,132 37 4,768 56 622 7 9,456 43 11,027 50 1,450 7
2005 3,122 38 4,551 55 634 8 9,315 42 11,133 51 1,489 7
2006 2,964 38 4,250 54 678 9 9,162 42 10,874 50 1,532 7
2007 2,902 38 4,007 53 681 9 8,915 43 10,070 49 1,537 7
2008 2,525 39 3,456 54 473 7 7,755 43 9,134 50 1,296 7

Speeding

In 2008, speeding was a factor in 31 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths. Speeding has been a factor in about one-third of crash deaths since 1998. Speeding was defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors coded indicated speed as a factor (driving too fast for conditions, racing, or exceeding the posted speed limit).

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor, 1999-2008
Year Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Num % Num % Num
1999 12,713 30 29,004 70 41,717
2000 12,552 30 29,393 70 41,945
2001 12,924 31 29,272 69 42,196
2002 13,799 32 29,206 68 43,005
2003 13,499 31 29,385 69 42,884
2004 13,291 31 29,545 69 42,836
2005 13,583 31 29,927 69 43,510
2006 13,609 32 29,099 68 42,708
2007 13,140 32 28,119 68 41,259
2008 11,674 31 25,587 69 37,261

In 2008, the percentage of crash deaths involving speeding was higher on minor roads (38 percent) than on interstates and freeways (31 percent) or on other major roads (28 percent).

Crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by road type, 2008
Road type Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Num % Num % Num
Interstates and freeways 1,457 31 3,218 69 4,675
Other major roads 5,770 28 14,722 72 20,492
Minor roads 3,789 38 6,302 62 10,091
All road types* 11,674 31 25,587 69 37,261
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

When they died

In 2008, August had the highest number of crash deaths of any month.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by month, 2008
Month Deaths %
January 2,828 8
February 2,821 8
March 2,802 8
April 2,949 8
May 3,195 9
June 3,276 9
July 3,256 9
August 3,549 10
September 3,095 8
October 3,327 9
November 3,089 8
December 3,074 8
Total 37,261 100

Fifty-one percent of crash deaths occur on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by day of week, 2008
Day of week Deaths %
Sunday 6,164 17
Monday 4,475 12
Tuesday 4,603 12
Wednesday 4,514 12
Thursday 4,687 13
Friday 5,971 16
Saturday 6,846 18
Total 37,261 100

Deaths occur most often between 3pm and 9pm (32 percent), followed by 9pm to 3am (28 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by time of day, 2008
Time of day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 4,918 13
3am-6am 3,057 8
6am-9am 3,484 9
9am-noon 3,644 10
Noon-3pm 4,759 13
3pm-6pm 5,802 16
6pm-9pm 5,855 16
9pm-midnight 5,456 15
Total* 37,261 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References