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
YearDeathsCrashesMotor vehicles
197544,52539,16155,534
197645,52339,74756,084
197747,87842,21160,516
197850,33144,43364,144
197951,09345,22364,762
198051,09145,28463,485
198149,30144,00062,699
198243,94539,09256,455
198342,58937,97655,106
198444,25739,63157,972
198543,82539,19658,272
198646,08741,09060,792
198746,39041,43861,836
198847,08742,13062,703
198945,58240,74160,870
199044,59939,83659,292
199141,50836,93754,795
199239,25034,94252,227
199340,15035,78053,777
199440,71636,25454,911
199541,81737,24156,524
199642,06537,49457,347
199742,01337,32457,060
199841,50137,10756,922
199941,71737,14056,820
200041,94537,52657,594
200142,19637,86257,918
200243,00538,49158,426
200342,88438,47758,877
200442,83638,44458,729
200543,51039,25259,495
200642,70838,64858,094
200741,25937,43556,253
200837,26134,01750,430

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
YearPopulationPassenger vehicle occupantsPedestriansMotorcyclistsBicyclistsLarge truck occupantsAll motor vehicle deaths*
NumRateNumRateNumRateNumRateNumRateNumRate
1975215,973,19930,60114.27,5163.53,1061.41,0030.59160.444,52520.6
1976218,035,16431,72414.57,4273.43,2321.59140.41,1000.545,52320.9
1977220,239,42532,82314.97,7323.54,0041.89220.41,2290.647,87821.7
1978222,584,54534,92315.77,7953.54,4482.08920.41,3150.650,33122.6
1979225,055,48735,02615.68,0963.64,7122.19320.41,3720.651,09322.7
1980227,224,71934,99615.48,0703.64,9552.29650.41,1830.551,09122.5
1981229,465,60833,71114.77,8373.44,7372.19360.41,0820.549,30121.5
1982231,664,49629,65612.87,3313.24,2671.88640.49170.443,94519.0
1983233,791,90329,15412.56,8262.94,0991.88300.49600.442,58918.2
1984235,824,78330,09312.87,0253.04,4251.98380.41,0400.444,25718.8
1985237,923,73229,84712.56,8082.94,4151.98690.49410.443,82518.4
1986240,132,84132,22413.46,7792.84,3091.89290.48920.446,08719.2
1987242,289,02333,14513.76,7452.83,8321.69400.48210.346,39019.1
1988244,498,83634,10513.96,8702.83,4911.49010.48860.447,08719.3
1989246,819,11933,59913.66,5562.73,0301.28220.38220.345,58218.5
1990249,464,39632,71113.16,4822.63,1281.38530.36840.344,59917.9
1991252,153,09230,81012.25,8012.32,7021.18360.36500.341,50816.5
1992255,029,69929,45711.65,5492.22,2910.97170.35800.239,25015.4
1993257,782,60829,99411.65,6492.22,3460.98060.35900.240,15015.6
1994260,327,02130,82011.85,4892.12,2150.97960.36580.340,71615.6
1995262,803,27631,91312.15,5842.12,1380.88280.36340.241,81715.9
1996265,228,57232,35312.25,4492.12,0770.87610.36020.242,06515.9
1997267,783,60732,34312.15,3212.02,0560.88110.37170.342,01315.7
1998270,248,00331,78111.85,2281.92,2270.87570.37390.341,50115.4
1999272,690,81332,00811.74,9391.82,4190.97500.37470.341,71715.3
2000282,192,16232,10911.44,7631.72,8291.06890.27370.341,94514.9
2001285,102,07531,93811.24,9011.73,1231.17290.36910.242,19614.8
2002287,941,22032,72411.44,8511.73,1871.16630.26750.243,00514.9
2003290,788,97632,16611.14,7741.63,6411.36260.27030.242,88414.7
2004293,655,40431,75010.84,6751.63,9041.37220.27430.342,83614.6
2005296,410,40431,45510.64,8921.74,4601.57840.37580.343,51014.7
2006299,398,48430,62810.24,7951.64,6991.67690.37740.342,70814.3
2007301,621,15729,1559.74,6991.65,0501.76990.27450.241,25913.7
2008304,059,72425,4288.44,3781.45,0911.77140.26170.237,26112.3
*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
YearPassenger vehicle occupantsPedestriansMotorcyclistsBicyclistsLarge truck occupantsOtherAll motor vehicle deaths
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
197530,601697,516173,10671,003291621,383344,525
197631,724707,427163,232791421,10021,126245,523
197732,823697,732164,004892221,22931,168247,878
197834,923697,795154,448989221,3153958250,331
197935,026698,096164,712993221,3723955251,093
198034,996688,070164,9551096521,1832922251,091
198133,711687,837164,7371093621,0822998249,301
198229,656677,331174,2671086429172910243,945
198329,154686,826164,0991083029602720242,589
198430,093687,025164,4251083821,0402836244,257
198529,847686,808164,4151086929412945243,825
198632,224706,779154,309992928922954246,087
198733,145716,745153,832894028212907246,390
198834,105726,870153,491790128862834247,087
198933,599746,556143,030782228222753245,582
199032,711736,482153,128785326842741244,599
199130,810745,801142,702783626502709241,508
199229,457755,549142,291671725801656239,250
199329,994755,649142,346680625901765240,150
199430,820765,489132,215579626582738240,716
199531,913765,584132,138582826342720241,817
199632,353775,449132,077576126021823242,065
199732,343775,321132,056581127172765242,013
199831,781775,228132,227575727392769241,501
199932,008774,939122,419675027472854241,717
200032,109774,763112,829768927372818241,945
200131,938764,901123,123772926912814242,196
200232,724764,851113,187766326752905243,005
200332,166754,774113,641862617032974242,884
200431,750744,675113,9049722274321,042242,836
200531,455724,892114,46010784275821,161343,510
200630,628724,795114,69911769277421,043242,708
200729,155714,699115,0501269927452911241,259
200825,428684,378125,09114714261721,033337,261

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
YearDeathsMiles travelled (millions)Rate
197544,5251,330,0743.35
197645,5231,409,1633.23
197747,8781,476,5673.24
197850,3311,548,2133.25
197951,0931,529,1333.34
198051,0911,520,8573.36
198149,3011,550,2713.18
198243,9451,592,4812.76
198342,5891,649,1062.58
198444,2571,716,7682.58
198543,8251,774,7622.47
198646,0871,838,2402.51
198746,3901,924,3272.41
198847,0872,025,5862.32
198945,5822,107,0402.16
199044,5992,147,5012.08
199141,5082,172,2141.91
199239,2502,239,8281.75
199340,1502,296,5851.75
199440,7162,357,5881.73
199541,8172,422,7751.73
199642,0652,482,2021.69
199742,0132,560,3731.64
199841,5012,625,3671.58
199941,7172,691,3351.55
200041,9452,749,8031.53
200142,1962,781,4621.52
200243,0052,855,7561.51
200342,8842,890,8931.48
200442,8362,962,5131.45
200543,5102,989,8071.46
200642,7083,014,1161.42
200741,2593,032,3991.36
200837,2612,973,5091.25

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
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
PopulationDeathsRatePopulationDeathsRatePopulationDeathsRate
< 1327,071,7426082.225,858,0374351.752,929,7791,0452.0
13-156,350,5313635.76,045,3592243.712,395,8905884.7
16-198,874,4322,31826.18,439,9851,14613.617,314,4173,46620.0
20-2410,845,4283,84035.410,213,5531,13111.121,058,9814,97123.6
25-2910,940,9562,87326.310,392,7878257.921,333,7433,69817.3
30-349,959,0832,09121.09,638,7395906.119,597,8222,68113.7
35-3910,568,8011,91018.110,424,9806736.520,993,7812,58312.3
40-4410,745,5562,10519.610,761,7937266.721,507,3492,83113.2
45-4911,314,0752,18619.311,565,7998477.322,879,8743,03313.3
50-5410,538,5581,97418.710,953,6337436.821,492,1912,71712.6
55-599,014,7151,62418.09,568,7306136.418,583,4452,23812.0
60-647,235,9241,27717.67,866,8125206.615,102,7361,79811.9
65-695,306,21784315.96,042,4654227.011,348,6821,26511.1
70-743,958,71175219.04,815,5484479.38,774,2591,19913.7
75-793,096,81769422.44,178,34643510.47,275,1631,13015.5
80-842,239,49354724.43,510,35143312.35,749,84498017.0
≥ 851,863,56554729.43,858,20341210.75,721,76895916.8
Total*149,924,60426,61617.8154,135,12010,6316.9304,059,72437,26112.3
*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
 PassengerDriver
Belt usedUnbeltedUnknownBelt usedUnbeltedUnknown
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%
19891,862206,67070956104,3431915,813702,38011
19901,830206,56170976104,6382115,053692,25310
19911,997226,03068851104,9762413,585661,98210
19922,042245,7016779095,2552712,477641,8279
19932,375275,4926477895,8772912,220611,92510
19942,564295,4236273186,5383212,332601,7599
19952,642295,5776279196,9733312,692591,7728
19962,750305,7066280797,3683412,331571,9199
19972,867315,4976081097,5613512,288571,8479
19982,814325,1695972587,7973612,033561,7868
19992,748325,2496070087,8343612,252561,7938
20002,957335,2125874488,1993811,841541,7548
20012,844325,1785973788,5093911,638531,7008
20023,151355,0935768788,7863912,028531,7058
20033,127364,8515577399,2394211,274511,6668
20043,132374,7685662279,4564311,027501,4507
20053,122384,5515563489,3154211,133511,4897
20062,964384,2505467899,1624210,874501,5327
20072,902384,0075368198,9154310,070491,5377
20082,525393,4565447377,755439,134501,2967

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
YearSpeeding-relatedNot speeding-relatedTotal
Num%Num%Num
199912,7133029,0047041,717
200012,5523029,3937041,945
200112,9243129,2726942,196
200213,7993229,2066843,005
200313,4993129,3856942,884
200413,2913129,5456942,836
200513,5833129,9276943,510
200613,6093229,0996842,708
200713,1403228,1196841,259
200811,6743125,5876937,261

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 typeSpeeding-relatedNot speeding-relatedTotal
Num%Num%Num
Interstates and freeways1,457313,218694,675
Other major roads5,7702814,7227220,492
Minor roads3,789386,3026210,091
All road types*11,6743125,5876937,261
*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
MonthDeaths%
January2,8288
February2,8218
March2,8028
April2,9498
May3,1959
June3,2769
July3,2569
August3,54910
September3,0958
October3,3279
November3,0898
December3,0748
Total37,261100

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

Motor vehicle crash deaths by day of week, 2008
Day of weekDeaths%
Sunday6,16417
Monday4,47512
Tuesday4,60312
Wednesday4,51412
Thursday4,68713
Friday5,97116
Saturday6,84618
Total37,261100

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 dayDeaths%
Midnight-3am4,91813
3am-6am3,0578
6am-9am3,4849
9am-noon3,64410
Noon-3pm4,75913
3pm-6pm5,80216
6pm-9pm5,85516
9pm-midnight5,45615
Total*37,261100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References