Fixed object crashes | 2009

About 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from a vehicle leaving the roadway and hitting a fixed object alongside the road. Trees, utility poles, and traffic barriers are the most common objects struck. About half of the deaths in fixed object crashes occur at night.

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

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. Information on the most harmful event became available in FARS in 1979.


Trends

A total of 7,800 people died in fixed object crashes in 2009, 10 percent fewer than in 2008 and 26 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 crash deaths, 1979-2009
YearFixed object crash deathsOther deathsAll deaths
Num%Num%Num
197910,5502140,5437951,093
198010,9682140,1237951,091
19819,4641939,8378149,301
19828,4171935,5288143,945
19838,3332034,2568042,589
19848,7962035,4618044,257
19859,3192134,5067943,825
19869,8512136,2367946,087
19879,6622136,7287946,390
19889,8652137,2227947,087
19899,5372136,0457945,582
19909,3552135,2447944,599
19918,8942132,6147941,508
19928,2212131,0297939,250
19938,2562131,8947940,150
19948,1422032,5748040,716
19958,5242033,2938041,817
19968,4422033,6238042,065
19978,3812033,6328042,013
19988,4012033,1008041,501
19998,4312033,2868041,717
20008,8992133,0467941,945
20019,0112133,1857942,196
20029,5802233,4257843,005
20039,4332233,4517842,884
20049,1232133,7137942,836
20059,0622134,4487943,510
20069,1812133,5277942,708
20079,1682232,0917841,259
20088,6612328,7627737,423
20097,8002326,0087733,808

Trees are the most common fixed object struck. Forty-nine percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 involved a vehicle striking a tree. Utility poles and traffic barriers were the next most common objects struck, accounting for 13 and 8 percent of deaths, respectively.

Percent distribution of fixed object crash deaths by object struck, 2009

Deaths in fixed object crashes by object struck, 2009
Object struckNum%
Tree3,81749
Utility pole98013
Traffic barrier6018
Embankment4235
Culvert2423
Highway sign support2393
Ditch2353
Fence1922
Building1522
Wall1462
Bridge pier1161
Light support1121
Other5457
Total7,800100

Alcohol

Forty-five percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2009 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent. By comparison, 29 percent of drivers killed in other types of fatal crashes had BACs this high. The number of drivers killed in fixed object crashes with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from a high of 4,209 in 1986 to 2,770 in 2009, a reduction of 34 percent.

Percent of fatally injured drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by crash type, 1982-2009

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by crash type, 1982-2009
YearFixed object crashesOther crashesAll crashes
Driver deathsEstimated deaths with BAC ≥ 0.08Driver deathsEstimated deaths with BAC ≥ 0.08Driver deathsEstimated deaths with BAC ≥ 0.08
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
19826,0893,9916618,6018,1484424,69012,13949
19836,0743,9256518,0647,6184224,13811,54348
19846,4964,0276219,0937,4723925,58911,49945
19856,9274,0785918,4106,6083625,33710,68542
19867,1214,2095919,5097,2013726,63011,40943
19876,9743,9655719,8597,0933626,83311,05841
19887,2393,9875520,0147,1163627,25311,10341
19896,9623,9265619,4276,7113526,38910,63740
19906,7863,8975718,9646,4983425,75010,39540
19916,3983,5385517,5325,9473423,9309,48540
19925,9793,1515316,6055,3013222,5848,45237
19935,9573,0795217,1855,2433123,1428,32236
19945,9432,8854917,7485,0282823,6917,91333
19956,1973,0184918,1935,2892924,3908,30734
19966,0772,9174818,4575,2582824,5348,17533
19976,0812,8814718,5864,9622724,6677,84332
19986,2802,9644718,4634,8702624,7437,83432
19996,2492,9084719,0085,0102625,2577,91831
20006,5953,0804718,9725,0862725,5678,16632
20016,6853,0504619,1845,2032725,8698,25232
20027,2183,2924619,4415,2242726,6598,51532
20037,0833,1634519,6965,1912626,7798,35431
20046,9063,0434419,9655,1122626,8718,15530
20056,9443,0604420,5475,4302627,4918,48931
20067,1803,1454420,1685,4332727,3488,57831
20077,1073,2444619,4635,3742826,5708,61732
20086,8393,0824517,4154,8792824,2547,96133
20096,1422,7704515,6564,5102921,7987,28133

Age and gender

Thirty percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2009 were males younger than 30. Overall, males accounted for 80 percent of drivers killed in fixed object crashes in 2009.

Driver deaths in fixed object crashes by age and gender, 2009
AgeMaleFemaleTotal
Num%Num%Num%
< 1618< 111< 129< 1
16-19419714525649
20-2481313179399216
25-2963410125275912
30-3439368914828
35-3938167214537
40-4439668114778
45-49429710025299
50-5436768914567
55-5929558013756
60-6421436612805
65-6916335012133
≥ 70373615435279
Total*4,900801,241206,142100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Crash types

Ninety-five percent of fixed object crash deaths in 2009 occurred in single-vehicle crashes.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by crash type, 2009
Crash typeDeaths%
Single-vehicle crashes7,38595
Multiple-vehicle crashes4125
All crashes7,800100

Eighteen percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 involved vehicles rolling over.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by rollover occurrence and object struck, 2009
Object struckRolloverNo rolloverAll crashes
Num%Num%Num
Boulder1334256638
Culvert672717572242
Embankment1122631174423
Ditch612617474235
Light support20189282112
Utility pole1851979581980
Tree655183,162833,817
Building261712683152
Guardrail651632683391
Fence301616284192
Concrete301418086210
Highway sign support16149986115
Other post/pole161310887124
Wall191312787146
Bridge pier131110389116
Bridge rail811638971
Curb8710393111
Other481427785325
Total1,392186,408827,800

About 19 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 involved ejection; 13 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, 2009
EjectionDeaths%
Not ejected5,12580
Fully ejected86313
Partially ejected4056
Total*6,426100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-two percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 occurred in frontal impacts.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by principal point of impact, 2009
Principal point of impactDeaths%
Frontal impact4,83762
Side impact — left side1,06314
Side impact — right side99213
Top or undercarriage4025
Rear impact1983
Unknown13< 1
Total*7,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

When and where crashes occur

Fifteen percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 occurred on interstates and freeways, 46 percent occurred on other major roads, and 38 percent occurred on minor roads.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by road type, 2009
Road typeDeaths%
Interstates and freeways1,15215
Other major roads3,59846
Minor roads2,93338
All road types*7,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-eight percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 occurred on rural roads.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by land use, 2009
Land useDeaths%
Rural4,51958
Urban3,22141
Total*7,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Twelve percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 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, 2009
 UrbanRuralTotal*
Num%Num%Num%
Non-junction2,581804,216936,84888
Junction63720301794612
Total*3,2211004,5191007,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-four percent of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 occurred on roads with speed limits 55 mph or higher.

Deaths in fixed object crashes by speed limit, 2009
Speed limitDeaths%
No limit37< 1
< 35 mph1,01813
35-40 mph1,64621
45-50 mph1,49019
55+ mph3,43444
Total*7,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

About half of deaths in fixed object crashes in 2009 occurred at night (9pm-6am). The highest proportions of fixed object crashes occurred between midnight and 3am (19 percent) and between 9pm and midnight (16 percent).

Deaths in fixed object crashes by time of day, 2009
Hour of dayDeaths%
Midnight-3am1,51019
3am-6am85911
6am-9am5918
9am-noon6348
Noon-3pm86111
3pm-6pm99213
6pm-9pm1,06614
9pm-midnight1,21416
Total*7,800100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References