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
Year Fixed object crash deaths Other deaths All 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 8,661 23 28,762 77 37,423
2009 7,800 23 26,008 77 33,808

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 struck Num %
Tree 3,817 49
Utility pole 980 13
Traffic barrier 601 8
Embankment 423 5
Culvert 242 3
Highway sign support 239 3
Ditch 235 3
Fence 192 2
Building 152 2
Wall 146 2
Bridge pier 116 1
Light support 112 1
Other 545 7
Total 7,800 100

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
Year Fixed object crashes Other crashes All crashes
Driver deaths Estimated deaths with BAC ≥ 0.08 Driver deaths Estimated deaths with BAC ≥ 0.08 Driver deaths Estimated deaths with BAC ≥ 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 6,839 3,082 45 17,415 4,879 28 24,254 7,961 33
2009 6,142 2,770 45 15,656 4,510 29 21,798 7,281 33

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
Age Male Female Total
Num % Num % Num %
< 16 18 < 1 11 < 1 29 < 1
16-19 419 7 145 2 564 9
20-24 813 13 179 3 992 16
25-29 634 10 125 2 759 12
30-34 393 6 89 1 482 8
35-39 381 6 72 1 453 7
40-44 396 6 81 1 477 8
45-49 429 7 100 2 529 9
50-54 367 6 89 1 456 7
55-59 295 5 80 1 375 6
60-64 214 3 66 1 280 5
65-69 163 3 50 1 213 3
≥ 70 373 6 154 3 527 9
Total* 4,900 80 1,241 20 6,142 100
*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 type Deaths %
Single-vehicle crashes 7,385 95
Multiple-vehicle crashes 412 5
All crashes 7,800 100

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 struck Rollover No rollover All crashes
Num % Num % Num
Boulder 13 34 25 66 38
Culvert 67 27 175 72 242
Embankment 112 26 311 74 423
Ditch 61 26 174 74 235
Light support 20 18 92 82 112
Utility pole 185 19 795 81 980
Tree 655 18 3,162 83 3,817
Building 26 17 126 83 152
Guardrail 65 16 326 83 391
Fence 30 16 162 84 192
Concrete 30 14 180 86 210
Highway sign support 16 14 99 86 115
Other post/pole 16 13 108 87 124
Wall 19 13 127 87 146
Bridge pier 13 11 103 89 116
Bridge rail 8 11 63 89 71
Curb 8 7 103 93 111
Other 48 14 277 85 325
Total 1,392 18 6,408 82 7,800

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
Ejection Deaths %
Not ejected 5,125 80
Fully ejected 863 13
Partially ejected 405 6
Total* 6,426 100
*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 impact Deaths %
Frontal impact 4,837 62
Side impact — left side 1,063 14
Side impact — right side 992 13
Top or undercarriage 402 5
Rear impact 198 3
Unknown 13 < 1
Total* 7,800 100
*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 type Deaths %
Interstates and freeways 1,152 15
Other major roads 3,598 46
Minor roads 2,933 38
All road types* 7,800 100
*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 use Deaths %
Rural 4,519 58
Urban 3,221 41
Total* 7,800 100
*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
  Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Non-junction 2,581 80 4,216 93 6,848 88
Junction 637 20 301 7 946 12
Total* 3,221 100 4,519 100 7,800 100
*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 limit Deaths %
No limit 37 < 1
< 35 mph 1,018 13
35-40 mph 1,646 21
45-50 mph 1,490 19
55+ mph 3,434 44
Total* 7,800 100
*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 day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 1,510 19
3am-6am 859 11
6am-9am 591 8
9am-noon 634 8
Noon-3pm 861 11
3pm-6pm 992 13
6pm-9pm 1,066 14
9pm-midnight 1,214 16
Total* 7,800 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References