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Fatality Facts 2021Yearly snapshot

Overview

A total of 42,939 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021. The U.S. Department of Transportation's most recent estimate of the annual economic cost of crashes is $340 billion. Blincoe, L., Miller, T., Wang, J.-S., Swedler, D., Coughlin, T., Lawrence, B., Guo, F., Klauer, S., and Dingus, T. (2022, December). The economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2019 (Report No. DOT HS 813-403). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.Contributing to the death toll are alcohol, speeding, lack of seat belt use and other problematic behaviors. Death rates vary by vehicle type, driver age and sex, and other factors.

In 1975, the U.S. Department of Transportation started an annual census of motor vehicle deaths, recording information on crash type, vehicle type, road type, driver characteristics and a variety of other factors. Institute researchers analyze these data each year to quantify the public health problem of motor vehicle deaths. The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s . Posted May 2023.

Age and sex

At all ages, males had higher per capita crash death rates than females in 2021. Males ages 25 to 29 had the highest rates of crash deaths, and females ages 12 and younger had the lowest rate. 
Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by age and sex, 2021
Age Male Female Total*
Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate
<13 26,442,279 503 1.9 25,248,817 414 1.6 51,691,096 922 1.8
13-15 6,774,981 273 4.0 6,456,519 183 2.8 13,231,500 458 3.5
16-19 8,794,449 1,780 20.2 8,414,291 815 9.7 17,208,740 2,600 15.1
20-24 10,973,238 3,092 28.2 10,550,759 1,184 11.2 21,523,997 4,283 19.9
25-29 11,379,058 3,225 28.3 11,013,419 1,080 9.8 22,392,477 4,310 19.2
30-34 11,674,304 3,073 26.3 11,428,324 1,054 9.2 23,102,628 4,138 17.9
35-39 11,263,833 2,596 23.0 11,035,485 973 8.8 22,299,318 3,572 16.0
40-44 10,593,780 2,335 22.0 10,510,756 801 7.6 21,104,536 3,144 14.9
45-49 9,875,757 2,049 20.7 9,905,753 679 6.9 19,781,510 2,735 13.8
50-54 10,436,202 2,274 21.8 10,470,724 775 7.4 20,906,926 3,054 14.6
55-59 10,630,059 2,331 21.9 10,937,255 747 6.8 21,567,314 3,080 14.3
60-64 10,333,259 2,170 21.0 10,902,491 744 6.8 21,235,750 2,925 13.8
65-69 8,748,213 1,665 19.0 9,646,107 611 6.3 18,394,320 2,280 12.4
70-74 7,120,873 1,198 16.8 8,150,929 577 7.1 15,271,802 1,779 11.6
75-79 4,472,410 862 19.3 5,432,359 512 9.4 9,904,769 1,375 13.9
80-84 2,696,104 622 23.1 3,605,202 372 10.3 6,301,306 996 15.8
85+ 2,175,943 578 26.6 3,799,813 478 12.6 5,975,756 1,059 17.7
Total* 164,384,742 30,747 18.7 167,509,003 12,051 7.2 331,893,745 42,939 12.9

From 1975 to 2021, the rate of deaths per 100,000 people declined by 78% for people 12 and younger (from 7.9 to 1.8), 66% for teenagers (from 29.4 to 10.0), 36% for people ages 20-34 (from 29.6 to 19.0), 18% for people ages 35-69 (from 17.5 to 14.3), and 46% for people 70 and older (from 25.9 to 13.9).

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by age group, 1975-2021
Year <13 years 13-19 years 20-34 years 35-69 years 70+ years
Population Number Rate Population Number Rate Population Number Rate Population Number Rate Population Number Rate
1975 45,851,304 3,643 7.9 29,795,023 8,748 29.4 50,998,098 15,074 29.6 74,764,829 13,080 17.5 14,563,945 3,775 25.9
1976 45,000,704 3,424 7.6 29,909,414 9,356 31.3 52,745,005 15,517 29.4 75,419,921 13,137 17.4 14,960,120 3,896 26.0
1977 44,337,332 3,347 7.5 29,800,313 9,633 32.3 54,497,448 17,287 31.7 76,203,083 13,460 17.7 15,401,249 3,859 25.1
1978 43,907,467 3,367 7.7 29,543,252 9,940 33.6 55,909,063 18,886 33.8 77,348,222 14,020 18.1 15,876,541 3,824 24.1
1979 43,778,959 3,171 7.2 29,077,607 9,920 34.1 57,499,197 19,675 34.2 78,311,107 14,232 18.2 16,388,617 3,772 23.0
1980 43,914,342 3,048 6.9 28,486,487 9,524 33.4 58,814,391 20,110 34.2 79,111,522 14,219 18.0 16,897,977 3,861 22.8
1981 44,049,940 2,733 6.2 27,743,947 8,315 30.0 60,563,416 19,887 32.8 79,785,591 13,950 17.5 17,322,714 3,871 22.3
1982 44,131,596 2,573 5.8 27,160,586 7,323 27.0 61,099,524 17,465 28.6 81,488,902 12,685 15.6 17,783,888 3,655 20.6
1983 44,119,297 2,518 5.7 26,737,497 6,805 25.5 61,840,154 16,853 27.3 82,861,204 12,488 15.1 18,233,751 3,734 20.5
1984 43,978,044 2,422 5.5 26,435,885 6,952 26.3 62,491,255 17,579 28.1 84,256,661 13,006 15.4 18,662,938 4,052 21.7
1985 44,260,136 2,469 5.6 26,001,247 6,737 25.9 62,961,154 17,031 27.1 85,628,410 13,126 15.3 19,072,785 4,206 22.1
1986 44,755,454 2,537 5.7 25,592,481 7,466 29.2 63,115,889 18,132 28.7 87,205,537 13,263 15.2 19,463,480 4,445 22.8
1987 45,348,247 2,654 5.9 25,209,615 7,293 28.9 63,032,298 17,676 28.0 88,808,046 14,074 15.8 19,890,817 4,555 22.9
1988 45,942,966 2,701 5.9 25,004,445 7,242 29.0 62,784,739 17,613 28.1 90,464,406 14,458 16.0 20,302,280 4,925 24.3
1989 46,690,604 2,658 5.7 24,664,300 6,688 27.1 62,494,056 16,512 26.4 92,250,762 14,651 15.9 20,719,397 4,943 23.9
1990 47,472,527 2,332 4.9 24,404,795 6,364 26.1 62,282,683 16,366 26.3 94,140,108 14,568 15.5 21,164,283 4,844 22.9
1991 48,240,747 2,257 4.7 24,066,587 5,760 23.9 62,025,750 14,949 24.1 96,068,111 13,587 14.1 21,751,897 4,843 22.3
1992 48,903,668 2,165 4.4 24,163,175 5,215 21.6 61,427,100 13,445 21.9 98,214,539 13,414 13.7 22,321,217 4,901 22.0
1993 49,335,864 2,164 4.4 24,664,091 5,421 22.0 60,582,332 13,456 22.2 100,399,648 13,748 13.7 22,800,673 5,221 22.9
1994 49,692,462 2,301 4.6 25,219,838 5,632 22.3 59,629,351 13,020 21.8 102,541,525 14,251 13.9 23,243,845 5,425 23.3
1995 49,920,484 2,201 4.4 25,764,300 5,675 22.0 58,712,407 13,330 22.7 104,712,328 15,018 14.3 23,693,757 5,509 23.3
1996 50,085,188 2,186 4.4 26,357,198 5,819 22.1 57,753,910 12,869 22.3 106,975,953 15,496 14.5 24,056,323 5,578 23.2
1997 50,364,983 2,108 4.2 26,730,812 5,730 21.4 57,046,569 12,334 21.6 109,232,426 15,860 14.5 24,408,817 5,872 24.1
1998 50,527,476 2,032 4.0 27,174,728 5,610 20.6 56,421,053 11,785 20.9 111,331,195 16,185 14.5 24,793,551 5,798 23.4
1999 50,667,139 1,997 3.9 27,518,156 5,752 20.9 55,961,401 11,840 21.2 113,451,312 16,384 14.4 25,092,805 5,657 22.5
2000 52,219,423 1,888 3.6 28,326,412 5,685 20.1 58,971,709 12,174 20.6 117,114,739 16,700 14.3 25,559,879 5,379 21.0
2001 52,341,395 1,751 3.3 28,437,711 5,594 19.7 59,465,066 12,375 20.8 119,060,436 16,934 14.2 25,797,467 5,425 21.0
2002 52,332,306 1,617 3.1 28,644,313 5,954 20.8 60,046,068 12,609 21.0 120,913,207 17,374 14.4 26,005,326 5,332 20.5
2003 52,187,602 1,643 3.1 29,028,500 5,718 19.7 60,599,350 12,365 20.4 122,772,578 17,705 14.4 26,200,946 5,363 20.5
2004 52,151,406 1,645 3.2 29,400,392 5,645 19.2 61,003,240 12,620 20.7 124,762,848 17,707 14.2 26,337,518 5,106 19.4
2005 52,149,395 1,529 2.9 29,589,854 5,300 17.9 61,180,772 13,023 21.3 126,831,714 18,491 14.6 26,658,669 5,047 18.9
2006 52,306,908 1,430 2.7 29,772,198 5,159 17.3 61,527,219 13,142 21.4 128,907,361 18,233 14.1 26,884,798 4,636 17.2
2007 52,585,809 1,269 2.4 29,775,943 4,981 16.7 61,623,322 12,531 20.3 130,500,566 17,725 13.6 27,135,517 4,631 17.1
2008 52,929,779 1,047 2.0 29,710,307 4,070 13.7 61,990,546 11,406 18.4 131,908,058 16,538 12.5 27,521,034 4,291 15.6
2009 53,753,412 1,066 2.0 29,667,279 3,480 11.7 63,105,881 9,940 15.8 132,693,708 15,340 11.6 27,786,270 3,995 14.4
2010 52,937,278 962 1.8 30,247,014 3,121 10.3 62,914,600 9,684 15.4 135,270,594 15,015 11.1 27,957,657 4,171 14.9
2011 52,921,253 908 1.7 29,917,216 3,033 10.1 63,965,818 9,633 15.1 136,306,915 14,782 10.8 28,472,279 4,071 14.3
2012 52,855,061 958 1.8 29,646,417 2,837 9.6 64,900,433 10,210 15.7 137,323,658 15,614 11.4 29,152,093 4,113 14.1
2013 52,719,631 940 1.8 29,551,607 2,543 8.6 65,681,251 9,908 15.1 138,067,096 15,298 11.1 30,040,362 4,150 13.8
2014 52,676,380 875 1.7 29,462,818 2,630 8.9 66,367,803 9,879 14.9 139,015,319 15,073 10.8 30,864,009 4,206 13.6
2015 52,764,080 946 1.8 29,356,330 2,747 9.4 66,762,737 10,608 15.9 140,231,069 16,677 11.9 31,624,778 4,427 14.0
2016 52,811,215 1,033 2.0 29,350,222 2,837 9.7 67,142,780 11,368 16.9 141,361,052 17,601 12.5 32,406,486 4,848 15.0
2017 52,726,410 949 1.8 29,387,954 2,762 9.4 67,381,469 10,932 16.2 141,662,252 17,670 12.5 33,964,043 5,037 14.8
2018 52,553,599 890 1.7 29,402,794 2,496 8.5 67,504,170 10,761 15.9 142,087,330 17,585 12.4 35,290,306 5,026 14.2
2019 52,266,740 855 1.6 29,412,828 2,394 8.1 67,647,658 10,259 15.2 142,410,359 17,558 12.3 36,592,368 5,232 14.3
2020 51,887,147 850 1.6 29,367,208 2,767 9.4 67,664,401 11,906 17.6 142,779,669 18,724 13.1 37,785,698 4,593 12.2
2021 51,691,096 922 1.8 30,440,240 3,058 10.0 67,019,102 12,731 19.0 145,289,674 20,790 14.3 37,453,633 5,209 13.9

Seat belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists, seat belt use among front seat occupants was 90.4% in 2021. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2022). Occupant restraint use in 2021: Results from the NOPUS controlled intersection study (Report No. DOT HS 813 344). U.S. Department of Transportation.Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash, so belt use is much lower among fatally injured occupants. Among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants age 13 and older in 2021, 45% of drivers and 43% of passengers were belted. These rates represent a 38% increase for drivers and a 47% increase for passengers compared with 1995, when only 33% of fatally injured drivers and 29% of fatally injured passengers were belted.

Seat belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by seating position, 1995-2021
Year Driver Passenger
Belt used Unbelted Unknown Belt used Unbelted Unknown
Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Number %
1995 6,974 33 12,692 59 1,772 8 2,642 29 5,577 62 791 9
1996 7,368 34 12,331 57 1,919 9 2,750 30 5,706 62 807 9
1997 7,561 35 12,288 57 1,847 9 2,867 31 5,497 60 810 9
1998 7,797 36 12,033 56 1,786 8 2,814 32 5,169 59 725 8
1999 7,834 36 12,252 56 1,793 8 2,748 32 5,249 60 700 8
2000 8,199 38 11,841 54 1,754 8 2,957 33 5,212 58 744 8
2001 8,509 39 11,638 53 1,700 8 2,844 32 5,178 59 737 8
2002 8,786 39 12,028 53 1,705 8 3,151 35 5,093 57 687 8
2003 9,239 42 11,274 51 1,666 8 3,127 36 4,851 55 773 9
2004 9,456 43 11,027 50 1,450 7 3,132 37 4,768 56 622 7
2005 9,315 42 11,133 51 1,489 7 3,122 38 4,551 55 634 8
2006 9,162 42 10,874 50 1,532 7 2,964 38 4,250 54 678 9
2007 8,915 43 10,070 49 1,537 7 2,902 38 4,007 53 681 9
2008 7,794 43 9,160 50 1,301 7 2,536 39 3,495 54 473 7
2009 7,421 44 8,199 49 1,207 7 2,366 40 3,031 52 449 8
2010 7,307 46 7,497 47 1,215 8 2,285 41 2,872 51 457 8
2011 7,047 45 7,356 47 1,147 7 2,055 40 2,650 52 432 8
2012 7,234 45 7,505 47 1,166 7 2,158 41 2,665 50 461 9
2013 7,324 47 6,988 45 1,261 8 2,166 43 2,439 48 471 9
2014 7,410 48 6,906 45 1,170 8 2,182 44 2,309 46 477 10
2015 8,026 48 7,289 44 1,305 8 2,344 44 2,473 46 557 10
2016 8,486 48 7,721 44 1,425 8 2,442 44 2,562 46 514 9
2017 8,670 49 7,603 43 1,466 8 2,463 46 2,339 44 563 10
2018 8,435 49 7,399 43 1,418 8 2,272 45 2,320 45 507 10
2019 8,357 50 7,108 42 1,404 8 2,227 45 2,261 45 513 10
2020 8,099 44 8,376 46 1,807 10 2,129 42 2,401 47 600 12
2021 9,063 45 9,169 45 1,996 10 2,385 43 2,499 45 637 12
In 2021, the highest number (15,328) of fatality injured occupants were involved in frontal impacts, and among these individuals, less than half (44%) were belted. More than half of fatally injured occupants in side and rear crashes were belted. In other crashes, mostly involving rollovers, only 24% of fatality injured occupants were belted. 
Seat belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by crash type, 2021
Initial Contact Point Restraint used
Belted Unbelted Total*
Number % Number % Number %
Front 6,708 44 7,037 46 15,328 100
Side 3,038 54 2,058 37 5,636 100
Rear 727 55 442 33 1,322 100
Other (mostly rollover) 538 24 1,506 68 2,214 100
Total* 11,448 44 11,703 45 25,788 100

Speeding

In 2021, speeding was a factor in 29% of motor vehicle crash deaths. Speeding has been a factor in more than a quarter of crash deaths over the past decade. Speeding is defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors included driving too fast for conditions, racing or exceeding the posted speed limit.
Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor, 2012-2021
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Number % Number % Number
2012 10,329 31 23,453 69 33,782
2013 9,696 29 23,198 71 32,894
2014 9,283 28 23,461 72 32,744
2015 9,723 27 25,762 73 35,485
2016 10,291 27 27,515 73 37,806
2017 9,947 27 27,526 73 37,473
2018 9,579 26 27,256 74 36,835
2019 9,592 26 26,763 74 36,355
2020 11,428 29 27,579 71 39,007
2021 12,330 29 30,609 71 42,939
In 2021, the percentage of crash deaths involving speeding was higher on minor roads (33%) than on interstates and freeways (29%) or on other major roads (26%).
Crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by road type, 2021
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Number % Number % Number
Interstates and freeways 2,240 29 5,371 71 7,611
Other major roads 5,800 26 16,430 74 22,230
Minor roads 4,220 33 8,610 67 12,830
All road types* 12,330 29 30,609 71 42,939

Of the 12,330 speeding-related fatalities that occurred in 2021, about half (53%) occurred on roads with speed limits lower than 55 mph.

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by speed limit, 2021
Speeding-related Not speeding-related Total
Number % Number % Number %
≤35 mph 3,075 25 5,756 19 8,831 21
40-50 mph 3,496 28 8,311 27 11,807 27
55+ mph 5,259 43 14,959 49 20,218 47
Total* 12,330 100 30,609 100 42,939 100

Distraction

A total of 3,349 drivers in fatal crashes that occurred in 2021 were categorized as distracted. Of these, the most common distraction was “generally distracted or lost in thought (daydreaming)” at 65% of distracted drivers. These figures are likely underestimates, given that it is often impossible to verify that a distraction was present at the time of a crash.

Distracted drivers in fatal crashes during 2021, by distraction type
Distraction type Number %
Generally distracted or "lost in thought" (daydreaming) 2,163 65
Cellphone use (talking, listening, dialing, texting) 382 11
Outside person, object or event, such as rubbernecking 267 8
Other distraction, not specified 110 3
Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car) 151 5
Using or reaching for device brought into vehicle, such as navigational device, headphones 117 3
Eating or drinking 42 1
Adjusting audio or climate controls 43 1
Using other device/controls integral to vehicle, such as adjusting rear view mirrors, seats, or using OEM navigation system 75 2
Moving object in vehicle, such as pet or insect 13 <1
Smoking related (includes smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in ashtray) 7 <1
All distracted drivers 3,349 100

When they died

In 2021, February had the fewest crash deaths and October had the most.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by month, 2021
Month Deaths %
January 3,099 7
February 2,561 6
March 3,214 7
April 3,557 8
May 3,768 9
June 3,789 9
July 3,879 9
August 4,013 9
September 3,861 9
October 4,101 10
November 3,599 8
December 3,498 8
Total 42,939 100
In 2021, about half of crash deaths occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by day of week, 2021
Day of week Deaths %
Sunday 6,801 16
Monday 5,579 13
Tuesday 5,219 12
Wednesday 5,265 12
Thursday 5,738 13
Friday 6,941 16
Saturday 7,396 17
Total 42,939 100
In 2021, one of every three crash deaths occurred between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Motor vehicle crash deaths by time of day, 2021
Time of day Deaths %
Midnight - 3 a.m. 5,075 12
3 a.m. - 6 a.m. 3,629 8
6 a.m. - 9 a.m. 3,940 9
9 a.m. - noon 3,794 9
Noon - 3 p.m. 5,283 12
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. 6,545 15
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 7,519 18
9 p.m. - midnight 6,827 16
Total* 42,939 100
Independence Day (July 4) typically is one of the days of the year with the most motor vehicle crash deaths. Weast, R. (2018). Temporal factors in motor-vehicle crashes: Ten years later. Journal of Safety Research, 65, 125-131.
Days of year with most motor vehicle crash deaths, 2017-2021
Date Total deaths, 2017-2021 Yearly average
July 4 724 145
August 4 649 130
July 3 648 130
June 30 643 129
September 3 642 128
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