Fixed object crashes | 2008

About 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from a vehicle leaving the roadway and hitting a fixed object such as a tree or utility pole alongside the road.

Alcohol is a frequent contributing factor in these crashes. Motorists also run off the road because of excessive speed, falling asleep, or inattention. Efforts to reduce these driver errors are only somewhat effective, so it's important to shield or remove fixed objects or avoid putting them along roads in the first place, especially roads where vehicles are more likely to leave the pavement.

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

The information is based on fatal crashes in which the most harmful event coded was a collision with a fixed object, regardless of whether the first harmful event also was a collision with a fixed object, or was instead another type of crash, such as a collision between two motor vehicles, that in turn led to a collision with a fixed object.

Trends

A total of 8,623 people died in fixed object crashes in 2008, about 6 percent fewer than in 2007 and about 18 percent fewer than in 1979. The proportion of motor vehicle crash deaths involving collisions with fixed objects has remained between 19 and 23 percent since 1979.

Deaths in fixed object crashes as a percent of all motor vehicle deaths, 1979-2008
Year Fixed object crash deaths Other deaths All motor vehicle deaths
Num % Num % Num
1979 10,550 21 40,543 79 51,093
1980 10,968 21 40,123 79 51,091
1981 9,464 19 39,837 81 49,301
1982 8,417 19 35,528 81 43,945
1983 8,333 20 34,256 80 42,589
1984 8,796 20 35,461 80 44,257
1985 9,319 21 34,506 79 43,825
1986 9,851 21 36,236 79 46,087
1987 9,662 21 36,728 79 46,390
1988 9,865 21 37,222 79 47,087
1989 9,537 21 36,045 79 45,582
1990 9,355 21 35,244 79 44,599
1991 8,894 21 32,614 79 41,508
1992 8,221 21 31,029 79 39,250
1993 8,256 21 31,894 79 40,150
1994 8,142 20 32,574 80 40,716
1995 8,524 20 33,293 80 41,817
1996 8,442 20 33,623 80 42,065
1997 8,381 20 33,632 80 42,013
1998 8,401 20 33,100 80 41,501
1999 8,431 20 33,286 80 41,717
2000 8,899 21 33,046 79 41,945
2001 9,011 21 33,185 79 42,196
2002 9,580 22 33,425 78 43,005
2003 9,433 22 33,451 78 42,884
2004 9,123 21 33,713 79 42,836
2005 9,062 21 34,448 79 43,510
2006 9,181 21 33,527 79 42,708
2007 9,168 22 32,091 78 41,259
2008 8,623 23 28,638 77 37,261

Trees are the most common fixed object struck. Forty-eight percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 involved a vehicle striking a tree. Utility poles and traffic barriers were the next most common objects struck, accounting for 12 and 8 percent of deaths, respectively.

Percent distribution of fixed object crash deaths by object struck, 2008

Deaths in fixed object crashes by object struck, 2008
Object struck Num %
Tree 4,182 48
Utility pole 1,029 12
Traffic barrier 686 8
Embankment 544 6
Highway sign support 283 3
Ditch 262 3
Culvert 221 3
Fence 179 2
Building 173 2
Bridge pier 173 2
Wall 156 2
Light support 125 1
Other 610 7
Total 8,623 100

Alcohol

Forty-five percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2008 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent. By comparison, 28 percent of drivers killed in other types of fatal crashes had BACs this high. The number of deaths in fixed object crashes involving drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from a high of 4,209 in 1986 to 3,087 in 2008, a reduction of 27 percent.

Percent of fatally injured drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by crash type, 1982-2008

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent, 1982-2008
Year Fixed object crashes Other All crashes
Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
1982 6,089 3,991 66 18,601 8,148 44 24,690 12,139 49
1983 6,074 3,925 65 18,064 7,618 42 24,138 11,543 48
1984 6,496 4,027 62 19,093 7,472 39 25,589 11,499 45
1985 6,927 4,078 59 18,410 6,608 36 25,337 10,685 42
1986 7,121 4,209 59 19,509 7,201 37 26,630 11,409 43
1987 6,974 3,965 57 19,859 7,093 36 26,833 11,058 41
1988 7,239 3,987 55 20,014 7,116 36 27,253 11,103 41
1989 6,962 3,926 56 19,427 6,711 35 26,389 10,637 40
1990 6,786 3,897 57 18,964 6,498 34 25,750 10,395 40
1991 6,398 3,538 55 17,532 5,947 34 23,930 9,485 40
1992 5,979 3,151 53 16,605 5,301 32 22,584 8,452 37
1993 5,957 3,079 52 17,185 5,243 31 23,142 8,322 36
1994 5,943 2,885 49 17,748 5,028 28 23,691 7,913 33
1995 6,197 3,018 49 18,193 5,289 29 24,390 8,307 34
1996 6,077 2,917 48 18,457 5,258 28 24,534 8,175 33
1997 6,081 2,881 47 18,586 4,962 27 24,667 7,843 32
1998 6,280 2,964 47 18,463 4,870 26 24,743 7,834 32
1999 6,249 2,908 47 19,008 5,010 26 25,257 7,918 31
2000 6,595 3,080 47 18,972 5,086 27 25,567 8,166 32
2001 6,685 3,050 46 19,184 5,203 27 25,869 8,252 32
2002 7,218 3,292 46 19,441 5,224 27 26,659 8,515 32
2003 7,083 3,163 45 19,696 5,191 26 26,779 8,354 31
2004 6,906 3,043 44 19,965 5,112 26 26,871 8,155 30
2005 6,944 3,060 44 20,547 5,430 26 27,491 8,489 31
2006 7,180 3,145 44 20,168 5,433 27 27,348 8,578 31
2007 7,107 3,244 46 19,463 5,374 28 26,570 8,617 32
2008 6,816 3,087 45 17,359 4,940 28 24,175 8,027 33

Age and gender

Forty percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2008 were males younger than 35. Overall, males accounted for 82 percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2008.

Driver deaths in fixed object crashes by age and gender, 2008
Age Male Female Total
Num % Num % Num %
< 16 24 < 1 7 < 1 31 < 1
16-19 538 8 145 2 684 10
20-24 956 14 185 3 1,141 17
25-29 698 10 118 2 816 12
30-34 504 7 82 1 586 9
35-39 436 6 84 1 520 8
40-44 436 6 95 1 531 8
45-49 466 7 114 2 580 9
50-54 370 5 88 1 458 7
55-59 277 4 64 1 341 5
60-64 281 4 73 1 355 5
65-69 152 2 44 1 196 3
≥ 70 420 6 153 2 573 8
Total* 5,562 82 1,252 18 6,816 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Crash types

Ninety-five percent of fixed object crash deaths in 2008 occurred in single-vehicle crashes.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by crash type, 2008
Crash type Deaths %
Single-vehicle crashes 8,195 95
Multiple-vehicle crashes 426 5
All crashes 8,623 100

Eighteen percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 involved vehicles rolling over.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by rollover occurrence and object struck, 2008
Object struck Rollover No rollover All crashes
Num % Num % Num
Embankment 170 31 374 69 544
Boulder 14 29 34 71 48
Culvert 63 29 158 71 221
Ditch 59 23 203 77 262
Bridge rail 15 22 52 78 67
Utility pole 222 22 807 78 1,029
Bridge pier 29 17 144 83 173
Tree 707 17 3,475 83 4,182
Guardrail 66 15 384 85 450
Wall 23 15 133 85 156
Concrete 33 14 203 86 236
Light support 17 14 108 86 125
Highway sign support 19 13 128 87 147
Other post/pole 17 12 119 88 136
Fence 22 12 157 88 179
Building 14 8 159 92 173
Curb 6 5 118 95 124
Other 45 12 326 88 371
Total 1,541 18 7,082 82 8,623

About 20 percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 involved occupant ejection; 14 percent of the occupants killed were fully ejected, and 6 percent were partially ejected.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths in fixed object crashes by occupant ejection status, 2008
Ejection Deaths %
Not ejected 5,497 79
Fully ejected 991 14
Partially ejected 421 6
Total* 6,957 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-four percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred in frontal impacts.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by principal point of impact, 2008
Principal point of impact Deaths %
Frontal impact 5,521 64
Side impact — left side 1,140 13
Side impact — right side 1,001 12
Top or undercarriage 439 5
Rear impact 225 3
Unknown 11 < 1
Total* 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

When and where crashes occur

Fifteen percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred on interstates and freeways, 46 percent occurred on other major roads, and 37 percent occurred on minor roads.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by road type, 2008
Road type Deaths %
Interstates and freeways 1,287 15
Other major roads 3,974 46
Minor roads 3,220 37
All road types* 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-seven percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred on rural roads.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by land use, 2008
Land use Deaths %
Rural 4,955 57
Urban 3,560 41
Total* 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Twelve percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred at junctions including intersections, interchanges, rail grade crossings, and junctions of streets with driveways and alleys. In urban areas, the proportion of deaths in fixed object crashes that occurred at junctions was 20 percent, compared with 7 percent in rural areas.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by road classification and relation to junction, 2008
  Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Non-junction 2,841 80 4,606 93 7,543 87
Junction 716 20 349 7 1,077 12
Unknown 3 0 3 0
Total* 3,560 100 4,955 100 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-five percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred on roads with speed limits 55 mph or higher.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by speed limit, 2008
Speed limit Deaths %
No limit 47 1
< 35 mph 1,123 13
35-40 mph 1,750 20
45-50 mph 1,650 19
55+ mph 3,852 45
Total* 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

About half of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2008 occurred at night (9pm-6am). The highest proportion of fixed object crashes occurred between midnight and 3am (20 percent).

Deaths in fixed object crashes by time of day, 2008
Hour of day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 1,686 20
3am-6am 928 11
6am-9am 720 8
9am-noon 679 8
Noon-3pm 917 11
3pm-6pm 1,105 13
6pm-9pm 1,127 13
9pm-midnight 1,374 16
Total* 8,623 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References