Road Safety in the USA

Road Safety in the USA

Driving is something many people do without thinking. This is especially true in the USA. where the vast majority of people choose to drive rather than use any other kind of transport. The landscape does lend itself to driving and many suburbs and towns are built around residents’ ability to drive.

But, despite how common driving is, it is still a dangerous activity. Especially when someone isn’t keeping to safety rules as they should. Many people are so confident about driving that they often feel that they don’t need to adhere to the laws as much as they should. But this definitely isn’t the case. 

Just glancing at a phone or not wearing a seatbelt for a drive to the grocery store is extremely dangerous. The information below shows an in-depth breakdown of car crashes across the USA. As well as some tips and reminders of how to stay safe on the road.

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Click on a state to view Fatal Accidents Summary. Click on 'more details' (bottom of summary) to view map with individual Fatal Accident Reports.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - U.S. Dept. of Transportation (Published Feb. 2021)

Annual United States Road Crash Statistics

Annual United States Road Crash Statistics

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were an estimated 6.74 million car crashes across the US in 2019. This is an increase of 0.3% on the year prior. This equates to around 18,500 crashes a day. In 2019, there were 276 million cars registered within the USA. With a population of more than 328 million, this means that more than 84% of Americans own a car. 

In 2014, a study found that the USA had the second-highest level of car ownership in the world after Italy. When this is taken into account statistically, 6.74 million doesn’t seem like a very high number. Especially when it is considered that the number of car crash fatalities in 2019 (published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association) was over 36,000.

But, when you consider how common an activity driving is, over 18,000 people crashing their cars every day appears shocking. With 36,000 fatal car crashes per year, this means almost 100 people are dying from car crashes every day.

Of course, the number of car crash fatalities do not solely include the driver. And the driver is not always the owner. So these numbers need to be considered in relation to how people within the US use their cars. 

When the numbers are considered on a smaller scale, the need for drivers to be more considerate of safety measures becomes even clearer. Further down, the fatalities are considered in terms of demographics. Including the fatalities of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. These are also factors to consider when appreciating the need for road safety regulations.

Crashes by State

Although there are federal laws concerning driving, there are specific differences across states. There are certain basic laws that apply across the country. But there are nuances and details that will vary state by state.

There can also be more major differences, such as maximum speed limits, laws concerning smoking while driving, and legal consequences for breaking driving laws.

In 2019, the state with the highest number of car crashes was California, with 10% of all car crashes across the US. This is proportional as California makes up almost 12% of the US population. 

When it comes to fatalities, the states with the highest number are Texas, California, and Florida. But, when their large population sizes are considered, these numbers are all relatively proportional. There are no states that have a hugely disproportionate number of car fatalities per population.

This is an interesting factor to consider, especially due to the varying laws in certain states. As mentioned above, state driving laws can vary greatly in terms of speed limit and legal consequences. However, this does not seem to suggest that one type of law or speed limit is a perfect limitation on causing car crashes. That said, the maximum speed limit within the US is 70mph. This will go some way toward guiding the laws of individual states. 

Crashes by County

Click on a state to view Fatal Accidents Map and details by County

As can be seen from the data, the crashes by county are generally proportional. The counties with the highest number of fatalities and fatal crashes are generally the most populous counties. There is little to be said around the fatalities in terms of population. 

But, it is still important to consider car crashes on a smaller county level. This is because local infrastructure can be a regular cause of car crashes. This can include poorly maintained roads and other problems that can directly impact a person’s ability to drive carefully.

But a lack of good infrastructure can also be a problem for pedestrians. As mentioned above, cars are one of the most popular forms of transportation in the US. Many people will choose to drive somewhere rather than walk. And many consider walking to be a form of exercise, rather than transport.

This means that the focus of some developers has been on providing well-connected and well-maintained roads. This is, of course, not a bad thing. But it can sometimes lead to a lack of decent sidewalks. If any sidewalks at all

Even in cities where walking is far more common, the lack of good sidewalks is a problem. This can result in pedestrians having to crowd on the sidewalk. Or even walk in the road to avoid one another. 

A lack of consideration for pedestrians can also result in a lack of crosswalks. There might be a number of traffic lights around a town or city. But the consideration for sensible and safe crossings is not often given. This can also lead to jaywalking which can cause car crashes.

Crashes by Demographic

Crashes by Demographic

Of the data included in this article, the most striking imbalance is sex. In 2019, women were ⅓ of all car fatalities. Whereas men were ⅔ of all car fatalities. To look more closely, male fatalities make up over 70% of all fatalities in 2019. 

This can be partly explained by the fact that, generally speaking, male drivers simply clock up more miles. But it is also true that male drivers are more likely to be reckless, speed, and drive when impaired by drugs or alcohol. Generally speaking, male drivers are more prone to risky and reckless behavior. 

Age is another notable factor in fatal car crashes. Many believe that young people, especially teenagers, will be more reckless when driving and prone to crashes. This is not necessarily untrue. But the majority of fatalities in car crashes are people aged 55 and over.

This is partly due to the fact that older people, especially those who are aged 70 plus and are elderly, are more frail and prone to injury. But they are also more likely to have reduced vision and cognitive abilities. Which can also cause car crashes.

Fatalities in Road Crashes

When discussing car crash fatalities, the focus often remains on those within the car. But these are not the only people killed by car crashes. Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists are all victims of dangerous driving. Or are themselves responsible for causing a car crash.

As the data shows, the vast majority of fatal car crashes include a fatality in the vehicle. But many cyclists and pedestrians are also killed in crashes throughout the year. 

No state recorded more than 1,000 pedestrian deaths in 2019 that were caused by car crashes. But 972 were killed in California. There is a large discrepancy between the numbers of bicyclists and motorcyclists killed.

This might seem disproportionate when the number of people who own bicycles compared to motorcycles is considered. But, of course, motorcycles are more likely to be used on a road. And motorcycles, even when the crash is not the fault of the rider, are incredibly dangerous. Especially when drivers cannot see them or are not looking out for them.

Are Road Crashes Preventable?

Since the 1980s, road crash fatalities have dropped significantly. This is due to a range of reasons. But the most important of these is the seatbelt. The seatbelt was first introduced in the 1950s. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that laws regarding seatbelts were first introduced. Even when they began to become more commonly installed in cars, seatbelts weren’t compulsory until 1983.

Car ownership has been popular in the US since they were first invented. Henry Ford’s Model T is known across the world. Even as a modern and relatively expensive item, cars became a common feature in most people’s lives. By 1929, 68% of all families in the US owned a car. 

The number of car fatalities increased over the 20th century. In-line with the increase in car ownership. But, when looking at the number of car fatalities during and after the 1970s, there is a significant reduction. This can be attributed to the introduction of seatbelts. 

As can be seen from the data, more than 28% of all car crash fatalities happened to people not wearing a seatbelt. Of course, there are terrible accidents in which a seatbelt will only have a small impact. But it can be easily argued that the number of car fatalities would be higher, had fewer people worn seatbelts.

As can also be seen from the data, the number of people ejected from cars is significantly smaller than the overall number of fatalities. This will be primarily due to seatbelts preventing people from being ejected from their cars. 

Seatbelts are, unarguably, a life-saving measure. However, it is difficult to argue that they themselves prevent car crashes. A seatbelt will prevent those within the car from having more serious injuries or being killed. But wearing them cannot prevent a car crash. Especially when the crash is caused by another driver.

While there will be certain causes of road crashes that cannot be blamed on the driver or those within the car, such as failed mechanics or poor driving conditions, there are several ways in which car crashes are preventable. 

The main causes of car crashes are:

  1. Drunk driving
  2. Reckless driving
  3. Distracted driving
  4. Speeding
  5. Rain
  6. Running red lights
  7. Night driving
  8. Design defects
  9. Tailgating
  10. Wrong-way driving/Improper turns
  11. Teenage drivers
  12. Drugs
  13. Potholes
  14. Tire blowouts
  15. Animal crossings
  16. Construction sites

From this list, it is clear that the vast majority of car crashes are preventable. Even the causes that aren’t the personal responsibility of the owner, such as potholes and design defects, can be prevented by local authorities and manufacturers.

Drunk driving is one of the most commonly discussed causes of car crashes. But, thanks to huge campaigns across the world, drunk driving is a much smaller problem than it once was. Driving after a few beers would have been the norm several decades ago. But few people would even consider this now.

That said, drunk driving is still one of the primary causes of car crashes in the US. As can be seen by the data, almost a third of all car crashes involved a driver who had been drinking or taking drugs. Few things can impair the senses like drugs and alcohol. And a driver should never get behind the wheel having consumed either. 

One cause of car crashes that has appeared more recently is distracted driving. This has always been a cause of car crashes as anything can distract a driver. This can be other people or children in the car, the driver not paying attention, or their attention being caught by something else.

But the invention and popularity of cell phones has greatly increased this problem. They first became an issue when people would take calls while driving. This would lead to drivers maneuvering with only one hand. This was a problem that caused a number of car crashes. 

People would feel confident in their ability to drive with only one hand. But even those who could do so adeptly would still be distracted by the call itself. This could take their attention away from driving. Then, should anything happen, they would not be able to prevent or avoid it with only one hand. 

The invention of texting and social media has, however, made the issue much worse. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed in car crashes caused by distracted driving. This is almost 10% of all the car crash fatalities that year. 

Distracted driving is causing crashes as, unlike speaking on the phone, messages and social media require the driver to look away from the road. This is incredibly dangerous and is absolutely preventable. Make sure to read on to the next section for specific ways to resist the temptation to check your phone while driving. 

Tips to Help Prevent Road Crashes

As mentioned above, there are some car crashes that will be another drivers’ fault. Or completely unpreventable by you as a driver. But, there are many other causes of car crashes that can be entirely prevented by a sensible, thoughtful, and careful driver.

Here are some of the ways that car crashes can be prevented.

Don’t Use a Cell Phone Whilst Driving

As mentioned above, one of the primary causes of car crashes is distracted driving. While many things can distract a driver, a cell phone is often the culprit. Driving while taking a call has been a problem for a long time. This was a problem as drivers were distracted. But also because it required the driver to steer with only one hand.

This was one of the reasons Bluetooth headsets became so popular. As people could drive and speak on the phone at the same time.

However, the surge in popularity of texting and messaging on social media has created another problem. As mentioned in the section above, around 10% of 2019 car fatalities were due to drivers being distracted

One of the main causes of distracted drivers are their phones. This is especially the case when checking messages. As this requires the driver to take their eyes off the road.

As a society, we are beholden to our phones. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And the urge to connect with one another is an intrinsic part of being human. But the urge to check your phone every other minute is also incredibly strong. 

One of the best ways to stop yourself from checking your phone is to turn it onto emergency mode. Not every phone has this mode, so make sure to double-check. This mode is similar to do-not-disturb. And essentially stops any message or call coming through to your phone until the mode is turned off. 

If someone is trying to contact you, they will be told that you have enabled emergency mode. And they will be able to override this to inform you of an emergency. This means that, if you hear your phone go off while on emergency mode, you will know to pull over and check it. This will stop you from checking any message just in case it could be an emergency. As you can always be sure. 

Another option is to put your phone on silent mode. This won’t help in an emergency situation. But it is still a good option.

If you don’t think either of these options will work for you, then you can simply place your phone out of reach. Put it in a bag or jacket pocket. Then put the bag or jacket pocket in the trunk of your car. If you place it somewhere like the glove box or in the back, you might be tempted to reach for it. This can also cause a crash. 

Always Wear a Seatbelt

As mentioned above, there is a direct correlation between the introduction of seatbelts and the decline in car crash fatalities. Fortunately, in 2019 the percentage of people who regularly wore seat belts was around 90%. This is a huge number. 

However, the remaining 10% are concerning. Not wearing a seatbelt is incredibly dangerous. Even if you’re quickly driving down the road to pick up some groceries. Or just moving your car from the roadside to the garage. Wearing a seatbelt will greatly reduce your chances of becoming severely injured or dying.

As shown in the data above, more than 28% of all car crash fatalities in 2019 involved someone not wearing a seatbelt. Of course, it cannot be claimed for certain if a seatbelt could have saved the lives of these people. But it would likely have had some benefit. 

To look at this from a more positive perspective, it is estimated that almost 15,000 lives were saved from seatbelts in just the year 2017.

Don’t Drink and Drive

There have been a huge number of public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing drunk driving. And it has had a great effect. Driving home after a few beers was once a common occurrence. And it is almost understandable as few people can really recognize when they are too drunk to drive. 

The propensity of these awareness campaigns has caused a reduction in drunk driving. But it cannot be said that they have been stamped out entirely.

In fact, drunk driving is still such a problem that around 28 people die every day as a result of drunk driving. That’s around one person every 52 minutes. Which, even in a country as populated as the USA, is a huge number.

When it comes to reducing drunk driving, there is only so much the police and government can do. They might be able to spot a drunk driver and put out campaigns, but this will only go so far. Personal and social responsibility is necessary for preventing drunk driving. And the terrible consequences it can cause.

It is down to you to know your limits and not drive when you have been drinking. Remember, prevention is much better than reaction. If you are going out to drink, take a taxi or have a designated driver. This designated driver can be someone who doesn’t drink, or you can take turns.

It’s also important to ensure that no one you are with drives when they have been drinking. They might argue with you and refuse to take a cab or stay over. But it’s always worth it. It’s best to have a slightly annoyed friend who will be grateful in the morning, than to allow something potentially tragic to occur. Even if you aren’t successful, and even someone who is drunk has personal responsibility, it is important to try.

As well as not drinking and driving, it’s important not to take any substance that might impair your cognitive ability. This includes drugs, especially marijuana. Even in states where it is legal, driving while high is not legal. Driving while high will impair your abilities differently from drinking. But they have the same potential consequences.

Slow Down

This is good advice for all drivers, but especially young drivers. It might be a stereotype that young teenagers (especially teenage boys) will drive their cars at excessive speed. But driving slowly at a young age is also a sensible idea due to inexperience.

As shown in the section on the causes of car crashes, one of the causes is simply listed as “teenager drivers”. Teenagers can, of course, be reckless and easily distracted by cell phones and friends in the car. But inexperience is also a common cause of car crashes.

Driving too fast when you’re not yet used to driving can cause a car crash. And this is exacerbated if the driver is speeding, distracted, or has been drinking. There is a sense of recklessness that goes along with being a teenager. And it can be exciting to be able to drive as fast as you can when you finally get your license. But it really isn’t worth the risk.

Be Aware of Children

This is incredibly important for every driver. The way cars are built, it can be difficult to see a child if they are small enough to be blocked from view by the body of the car. This can cause a truly heartbreaking car accident.

Whenever you’re reversing or pulling out, make sure to check for children. They are prone to wandering off or just dashing out into traffic. So it’s super important to always consider that there might be a child nearby. 

This is especially important when driving near areas where there will be a lot of children, such as schools or playgrounds. But also in areas where you can be potentially distracted. For example, in the grocery store parking lot. If you are distracted when looking for a parking spot, you likely won’t notice if a small child suddenly comes running nearby. This is definitely a risk as parents will be struggling with groceries and trying to care for their small children.

As a general rule, always assume that there could be a small child nearby, and drive accordingly. This can mean driving slowly and carefully, making sure you check your mirrors, and being especially conscious when driving near schools and playgrounds. These are small things to consider that can potentially save a small child from a tragic accident. 

Take Breaks if Making Long Journeys

This is a problem that hasn’t yet been discussed in this article. But car crashes can be caused by fatigue. When you’re making a long journey, it can be tempting to just keep going until you get to your destination. This is especially true if you’re tired and your destination promises a comfortable bed.

But being even slightly tired while driving can have detrimental effects. One of the most obvious is your eyes closing when you’re incredibly tired. It might sound extreme to some people, but falling asleep at the wheel is not an uncommon issue

Tiredness can also cause other problems, even if you’re not so tired that you could drop off. One is a reduction in visibility. If your eyes become tired, they will begin to blur and even fog up. This can dramatically impact your vision. Which can cause a car crash.

Another problem is delayed response times. When you’re tired, you are physically much slower. This is incredibly dangerous when driving. Even if you are only feeling a little tired, a minor delay in your reflexes can cause you to not respond quickly enough to avoid an accident.

So, taking breaks when making a long journey is always a good idea. Even if it just means pulling over at a roadside store or diner for a rest and to stretch your legs.

Keep Your Distance

As a rule, you should always keep a distance of one car between you and the vehicle in front of you. This can sometimes be difficult. But it will stop you from accidentally rear-ending someone. Keeping a car’s length between you will give you enough time to slow down before hitting someone.

If you don’t keep this distance and notice that the person in front of you has stopped, you won’t be able to stop in time. This is especially true if the vehicle has stopped suddenly or has become involved in a car crash itself. On busy roads, it is easy to become caught in a pile up. 

Keeping a good distance will allow you to gradually slow down when you need to. This is much safer than slamming on the brakes. As this can cause you to spin out or cause other problems that will have a much worse consequence.

Summary

Summary

Overall, there are a lot of ways that you can easily prevent a car crash. There are some things that are not your fault and are out of your control, such as a design fault or the actions of another driver. But there are many ways that you can keep yourself and others safe while driving.

The statistics above, when considered on such a huge scale, seem proportional. But when you consider each individual life, it suddenly becomes much more stark and more real. Especially when you consider how many of the fatalities could have been prevented.

Even what seems like the smallest thing, like quickly checking a text, can have a life-changing consequence. So, as a general rule, “If in doubt, don’t”. This will stop you from making any minor mistakes that could have major consequences.