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Fatality Facts 2021Children

Overview

Deaths of children younger than 13 in motor vehicle crashes have declined since 1975, but crashes still cause 1 of every 4 unintentional injury deaths. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2022). Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system (WISQARS): 2020 unintentional fatal injury data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Most crash deaths occur among children traveling as passenger vehicle occupants, and proper restraint use can reduce these fatalities. Restraining children in rear seats instead of front seats reduces fatal injury risk by about three-quarters for children up to age 3, and almost half for children ages 4 to 8. Durbin, D. R., Jermakian, J. S., Kallan, M. J., McCartt, A. T., Arbogast, K. B., Zonfrillo, M. R., & Myers, R. K. (2015). Rear seat safety: Variation in protection by occupant, crash and vehicle characteristics. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 80,185-192.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child restraint laws on the books. However, even though more children now ride restrained because of these laws, many children, particularly those 4 and older, still ride unrestrained. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2023). The 2021 national survey of the use of booster seats (Report No. DOT HS-813-396). U.S. Department of Transportation.Twenty states have laws requiring children to sit in the rear, but there is considerable variation among the laws based on the child’s age, height, weight and whether the vehicle has frontal airbags. The District of Columbia and all states except Oklahoma require all child occupants younger than 13, including those sitting in the rear, to be restrained.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s .Posted May 2023.

Age and sex

In 1975, infants (younger than 1) had a much higher passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate per capita than children of other ages, but this gap narrowed over the years. Since 1975, fatality rates dropped 61% for infants, 71% for children ages 1-3, 41% for children ages 4-8, and 49% for children ages 9-12. 
Passenger vehicle child occupant deaths per million children by age, 1975-2021
Passenger vehicle child occupant deaths per million children by age, 1975-2021
Year<1 year1-3 years4-8 years9-12 years
PopulationDeathsRatePopulationDeathsRatePopulationDeathsRatePopulationDeathsRate
1975 3,152,345 190 60.3 9,333,943 395 42.3 17,579,867 451 25.7 15,785,149 348 22.0
1976 3,115,391 173 55.5 9,166,175 393 42.9 17,444,438 436 25.0 15,274,700 341 22.3
1977 3,278,804 188 57.3 9,129,735 412 45.1 17,194,329 459 26.7 14,734,464 346 23.5
1978 3,326,388 192 57.7 9,317,815 406 43.6 16,838,903 455 27.0 14,424,361 342 23.7
1979 3,426,309 171 49.9 9,461,992 384 40.6 16,465,482 473 28.7 14,425,176 303 21.0
1980 3,559,861 190 53.4 9,763,803 396 40.6 15,994,363 403 25.2 14,596,315 342 23.4
1981 3,607,455 172 47.7 10,011,438 332 33.2 15,894,690 401 25.2 14,536,357 284 19.5
1982 3,643,586 164 45.0 10,287,129 352 34.2 15,997,832 365 22.8 14,203,049 277 19.5
1983 3,649,198 157 43.0 10,499,379 353 33.6 16,268,975 372 22.9 13,701,745 252 18.4
1984 3,571,921 132 37.0 10,605,208 301 28.4 16,592,564 377 22.7 13,208,351 271 20.5
1985 3,678,657 130 35.3 10,594,540 326 30.8 17,015,987 385 22.6 12,970,952 290 22.4
1986 3,699,568 130 35.1 10,653,722 360 33.8 17,338,168 409 23.6 13,063,996 289 22.1
1987 3,703,294 160 43.2 10,725,924 387 36.1 17,651,459 467 26.5 13,267,570 298 22.5
1988 3,756,541 183 48.7 10,882,631 385 35.4 17,801,235 484 27.2 13,502,559 302 22.4
1989 3,858,435 183 47.4 10,981,085 402 36.6 17,938,226 526 29.3 13,912,858 358 25.7
1990 3,987,662 162 40.6 11,168,053 343 30.7 18,082,010 447 24.7 14,234,802 316 22.2
1991 4,009,515 143 35.7 11,468,844 339 29.6 18,154,546 442 24.3 14,607,842 310 21.2
1992 3,982,857 127 31.9 11,739,325 349 29.7 18,296,744 442 24.2 14,884,742 315 21.2
1993 3,908,335 152 38.9 11,898,416 361 30.3 18,612,278 431 23.2 14,916,835 277 18.6
1994 3,854,882 160 41.5 11,821,298 379 32.1 18,958,858 486 25.6 15,057,424 319 21.2
1995 3,813,169 153 40.1 11,668,778 346 29.7 19,309,487 484 25.1 15,129,050 356 23.5
1996 3,769,544 178 47.2 11,499,426 346 30.1 19,610,009 486 24.8 15,206,209 336 22.1
1997 3,779,543 133 35.2 11,371,094 327 28.8 19,788,553 502 25.4 15,425,793 368 23.9
1998 3,790,645 138 36.4 11,301,476 304 26.9 19,814,280 512 25.8 15,621,075 379 24.3
1999 3,819,903 142 37.2 11,269,665 310 27.5 19,629,729 497 25.3 15,947,842 362 22.7
2000 3,867,754 131 33.9 11,425,866 311 27.2 20,146,324 458 22.7 16,779,479 364 21.7
2001 4,025,873 106 26.3 11,497,211 290 25.2 19,875,164 450 22.6 16,943,147 333 19.7
2002 3,984,989 107 26.9 11,733,679 272 23.2 19,662,203 405 20.6 16,951,435 347 20.5
2003 4,033,482 120 29.8 11,922,039 265 22.2 19,522,343 401 20.5 16,709,738 328 19.6
2004 4,077,188 121 29.7 12,086,916 301 24.9 19,473,829 406 20.8 16,513,473 345 20.9
2005 4,106,627 119 29.0 12,135,517 247 20.4 19,614,024 417 21.3 16,293,227 294 18.0
2006 4,130,153 115 27.8 12,265,881 247 20.1 19,809,458 375 18.9 16,101,416 276 17.1
2007 4,257,020 96 22.6 12,403,983 225 18.1 20,011,375 335 16.7 15,913,431 249 15.6
2008 4,313,132 78 18.1 12,568,765 163 13.0 20,289,522 269 13.3 15,758,360 189 12.0
2009 4,261,494 69 16.2 12,857,476 180 14.0 20,780,673 288 13.9 15,853,769 219 13.8
2010 3,951,495 59 14.9 12,160,572 178 14.6 20,283,919 256 12.6 16,541,292 160 9.7
2011 3,963,264 59 14.9 12,040,695 157 13.0 20,421,887 252 12.3 16,495,407 188 11.4
2012 3,926,731 54 13.8 11,941,356 191 16.0 20,521,866 237 11.5 16,465,108 159 9.7
2013 3,931,411 49 12.5 11,929,234 162 13.6 20,465,693 250 12.2 16,393,293 179 10.9
2014 3,954,973 47 11.9 11,917,426 135 11.3 20,424,691 249 12.2 16,379,290 173 10.6
2015 3,984,144 50 12.5 11,917,777 173 14.5 20,380,178 256 12.6 16,481,981 189 11.5
2016 3,963,268 63 15.9 11,981,228 178 14.9 20,261,729 284 14.0 16,604,990 205 12.3
2017 3,882,437 76 19.6 12,012,185 173 14.4 20,155,615 249 12.4 16,676,173 186 11.2
2018 3,826,908 61 15.9 11,929,712 160 13.4 20,176,658 238 11.8 16,620,321 182 11.0
2019 3,762,227 54 14.4 11,763,116 128 10.9 20,200,429 252 12.5 16,540,968 187 11.3
2020 3,735,010 53 14.2 11,548,435 130 11.3 20,176,890 245 12.1 16,426,812 190 11.6
2021 3,564,493 84 23.6 11,327,107 139 12.3 20,168,671 306 15.2 16,630,825 186 11.2
In 2021, passenger vehicle occupants accounted for the majority of motor vehicle crash deaths for all age groups of children. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 7% of crash deaths for children younger than 1, 23% for ages 1-3, 15% for ages 4-8, and 13% for ages 9-12. Children ages 9-12 had a larger percentage (5%) of bicycle fatalities than younger children. All-terrain vehicle fatalities accounted for 1% and 3% of crash deaths on public roads for children ages 4-8 and 9-12, respectively.
Child motor vehicle crash deaths by type and age, 2021
AgePassenger vehicle occupantsMotorcyclists Pedestrians Bicyclists All-terrain vehicle riders Other Total motor vehicle deaths*
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
<1 84 92 00 6 7 00 00 1 1 91 100
1-3 139 75 00 42 23 4 2 00 1 1 186 100
4-8 306 79 1 0 58 15 7 2 3 1 11 3 386 100
9-12 186 72 5 2 33 13 12 5 7 3 16 6 259 100
Total 715 78 6 1 139 15 23 2 10 1 29 3 922 100
The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per million children in 2021 was higher for males than females.
Motor vehicle crash deaths per million children younger than 13 by sex, 2021
SexNumber of childrenDeathsRate
Male 26,442,279 503 19.0
Female 25,248,817 414 16.4
Total* 51,691,096 922 17.8
Fifty-five percent of children younger than 13 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2021 were male. The sex difference in fatalities was greater among child bicyclists (74% males, 22% females) than among child pedestrians (58% males, 40% females) or occupants of passenger vehicles (53% males, 47% females).
Motor vehicle crash deaths among children younger than 13 by type and sex, 2021
Male Female Total*
Number%Number%Number%
Passenger vehicle occupants 376 53 337 47 715 100
Pedestrians 81 58 56 40 139 100
Bicyclists 17 74 5 22 23 100
Total* 503 55 414 45 922 100

Restraint use

The proportion of fatally injured children who are restrained has risen greatly during the past 35 years, from 15% in 1985 to 56% in 2021. According to a national observational survey, restraint use among children younger than 13 years was 90% in 2021.National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2023). The 2021 national survey of the use of booster seats (Report No. DOT HS-813-396). U.S. Department of Transportation.Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash, so restraint use is much lower among fatally injured occupants.

Restraint use among fatally injured children in passenger vehicles by age, 1985
AgeUnrestrained Seat belt Child safety seat Total restrained Unknown Total
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
<1 85 65 2 2 29 22 31 24 14 11 130 100
1-3 230 71 18 6 55 17 73 22 23 7 326 100
4-8 267 69 41 11 7 2 48 12 70 18 385 100
9-12 223 77 21 700 21 7 46 16 290 100
Total 805 71 82 7 91 8 173 15 153 14 1,131 100
Restraint use among fatally injured children in passenger vehicles by age, 2021
AgeUnrestrained Seat belt Child safety seat Total restrained Unknown Total
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
<1 26 3100 51 61 51 61 7 8 84 100
1-3 35 25 5 4 88 63 93 67 11 8 139 100
4-8 107 35 74 24 84 27 158 52 41 13 306 100
9-12 61 33 98 53 1 1 99 53 26 14 186 100
Total 229 32 177 25 224 31 401 56 85 12 715 100

When they died

More children were killed in motor vehicle crashes on Saturdays and Sundays in 2021 (18% and 19%, respectively) than on any other day of the week.

Motor vehicle crash deaths among children younger than 13 by day of week, 2021
Day of weekDeaths%
Sunday 172 19
Monday 107 12
Tuesday 112 12
Wednesday 105 11
Thursday 128 14
Friday 136 15
Saturday 162 18
Total 922 100
Twenty-two percent of the deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes in 2021 occurred between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and 20% occurred between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Motor vehicle crash deaths among children younger than 13 by time of day, 2021
Time of dayNumber%
Midnight - 3 a.m. 57 6
3 a.m. - 6 a.m. 30 3
6 a.m. - 9 a.m. 82 9
9 a.m. - noon 94 10
Noon - 3 p.m. 139 15
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. 201 22
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 189 20
9 p.m. - midnight 123 13
Total* 922 100
The proportion of children killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2021 was highest during the month of May (11%) compared with other months of the year.
Motor vehicle crash deaths among children younger than 13 by month, 2021
MonthNumber%
January 53 6
February 48 5
March 81 9
April 85 9
May 98 11
June 96 10
July 93 10
August 71 8
September 56 6
October 80 9
November 83 9
December 78 8
Total 922 100
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