How and When You’re Most Likely to Die in a Car Crash

Car accident

Thousands of Americans die each year in car crashes. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Looking at the list of deadliest cars on the road, we can be grateful death traps, such as the Ford Pinto or Chevy Cobalt, no longer exist. Nonetheless, there was plenty of bad news when we dug into the latest report on crash-death statistics from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data organized by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For starters, the latest total was the highest number since 2008, when 37,423 people died.

The good news is the 35,092 fatalities from auto accidents in the most recent report (2015) marked the eighth straight year under 40,000 deaths. Americans still die on the road at a higher rate than any other country, but things have improved somewhat.

But even taking population growth into account, the latest stats on vehicle fatalities raised some red flags. To that end, we looked at how, when, and why people met their end in a vehicle. We also noted who is most likely to die in a car crash and at what age. Here are 15 things you need to know about U.S. crash deaths.

1. Men die more than twice the rate of women

There has always been something of a battle of the sexes when it comes to driving habits. To generalize, men think women drive too slowly, and women think men drive like psychos. When we looked at the evidence of crash deaths, the ladies seem to have a point. Men died at a rate of 15.7 per 100,000 people — more than twice as frequently as women did (6.2 per 100,000). Looking at the ages of the men involved in the most fatal crashes, you start to understand why.

Next: The young and the reckless are the most dangerous.

2. Elderly men and young men die the most

car crash

There’s a definite gap in the ages. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Breaking down vehicle deaths by age, a few numbers jump out at you. First, elderly men (85 and older) had the highest rate of fatalities on the road at 27.5 per 100,000 people in the U.S. population. Meanwhile, the death rate for young men (ages 20 to 24) were not far behind at 26.5 per 100,000 people. However, the number of deaths for these young drivers (3,095) was by far the highest total. Only men ages 25 to 29 came anywhere close (2,702).

Next: Alcohol plays a role in most deaths.

3. Most fatal crashes involved alcohol

Woman getting arrested for a DUI

A DUI is a serious offense. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some 22,015 of the crash deaths occurring in 2015 involved alcohol. Whether it was the driver or pedestrian killed had alcohol in their body at the time of death, it is clear drinking continues to play a major role in highway and street safety. Seeing these numbers, it’s clear why DUI penalties are so harsh in many states. The odds are simply much higher a fatal crash will occur when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Next: A country road may be as dangerous as it is picturesque.

4. Country roads present real danger

Woman walking down a forest road

Lack of visibility and speed control could be the culprits. | Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

In 2015, the 17,114 deaths on rural roads were only slightly higher than those in urban areas (15,362). However, when looking at the number of miles traveled by both sets of drivers, it’s clear rural roads present far more danger. Those rural crash deaths occurred in fewer than half the miles, making the rate of death more than 2.5 times that of drivers on city and suburban roads. Remember, you only need one car to produce a fatal wreck — something the next statistic illustrates.

Next: It only takes one car for a fatal crash.

5. Most fatal crashes involve a single vehicle

accident scene

The majority are single-vehicle accidents. | Nestor Bachmann/AFP/Getty Images

It may take two to tango, but it only takes one person behind the wheel of a car to produce a fatal accident. According to the NHTSA data, single-vehicle crashes were responsible for 55% of deaths by automobile in 2015. That number held about the same for rural and urban roads across America. When there was a fixed object involved, 95% of the fatal crashes were of the single-vehicle variety.

Next: SUVs should still have a reputation for fatal rollovers.

6. SUVs and pickups lead in fatal rollovers

Car rollover crash

Top-heavy cars face an obvious rollover risk. | John Cowpland/Getty Images

Although SUVs and pickup trucks have come a long way over the years, these vehicle classes still lead the industry when it comes to risk of rolling over. Looking at fatal crash records, this factor should still be on the minds of auto consumers in 2017. Compared to sedans, which had a 23% rate of rollover death, SUVs had more than double the rate at 48%. Pickups, at 42%, were not far behind SUVs in this scary stat.

Next: Look both ways or risk becoming a statistic.

7. Pedestrians need to watch their backs

people walking

Pedestrians are more likely to die than cyclists. | iStock/Getty Images

When looking at these crash death statistics, it is common to focus on drivers and other vehicles on the road. However, the 5,371 pedestrian deaths represented a 20-year high in 2015, so we need to direct our attention there, as well. Overall, pedestrians were five times more likely than cyclists to die in a fatal accident, and 70% of those who died on foot were men.

NextDeath counts are bigger in Texas, too.

8. Texas is the deadliest state in America

totaled car

Texas has the highest number of deadly crashes. | Micah Wright/The Cheat Sheet

Broken down by total deaths, Texas is the deadliest state with 3,516 fatalities in 2015. Considering the large population of Texas, the Lone Star State was not close to the top when adjusting for population. On that front, Wyoming was in a class by itself at 24.7 deaths per 100,000 people. Going by miles traveled per death, South Carolina had the highest rate of fatal crashes in America.

NextBeware of the Ides of August.

9. Summer means a spike in traffic deaths

Car crash in Belgium

Summer brings more deadly crashes. | Kurt Desplenter/AFP/Getty Images

In summertime, people like to get out and enjoy the weather, which means more cars and people on the road. Not surprisingly, the most vehicle fatalities occur during these months, too. The body count from August (3,319) topped the list, followed closely by July (3,266) and October (3,271). For pedestrians, the winter months (October through December) were the days to be on high alert.

Next: Loneliest night, deadliest night 

10. Saturday is the deadliest day

Auto accident involving two cars

The deadliest crashes are on the weekend. | RobertCrum/iStock/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra once sang of Saturday night being “the loneliest night of the week,” but in the postwar period it’s also been the deadliest for car crashes. According to the stats from 2015, some 6,193 deaths (18%) took place at the peak of the weekend. Sunday was not far behind with 5,787 deaths. (Monday and Tuesday had the least.) Two things come to mind from these numbers. First, more people are out on the weekend. And second, people are more likely to drink and drive under the influence during those days.

Next: America’s birthday is followed by a spike in funerals.

11. July 4 is the deadliest date

Car crash

July 4 revelry makes for more crashes. | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

While the daily average of crash deaths for the year was 122 fatalities, there were certain days that saw huge spikes. On the random side of things, Aug. 2, Nov. 1, and Oct. 11 were among the five deadliest dates of the year with over 570 fatalities occurring per date. However, July 4 was the worst of all with 612 deaths recorded that day. Jan. 1 (we’re guessing during the early morning hours) ranked fifth.

Next: Don’t roll your eyes when someone says, “Speed kills.”

12. Speed definitely kills

Semi-truck crash

High speed limits come with higher risks. | Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Anyone who believes speeding is not dangerous should check the crash death stats. According to the NHTSA rundown, 9,557 fatalities were attributed to speed-related accidents. Roads with high speed limits were also connected to a higher rate off fatalities. A fat 48% of the speed-related deaths took place in roads with a limit of 55 miles per hour or faster. Only 25% of the deaths came in zones of 35 miles per hour or lower — hence the steep tickets for speeding in so many states.

Next: The midnight hour is not the deadliest.

13. The witching hours

Car accident at night

Nighttime is more dangerous for crashes. | Jean-Christophe Magnenet/AFP/Getty Images

Before you head out on New Year’s Eve or July 4, you’d be wise to remind yourself about speeders and drunks you’ll find on the road. On the average night, the hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m were the deadliest time period of the day. During these hours, 5,912 fatal crashes took place. The fewest deaths came between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Next: People who forget their seat belts learn the hard way.

14. Continuing seat belt issues

Young man fastening seat belt

There are still people who won’t put on their seat belt. | iStock/Getty Images

You’d think after so many warnings, public service announcements, and increased enforcement by police officers, drivers and their passengers would never hit the road without their seat belt. According to the statistics, people still have a problem following this directive. A whopping 7,221 driver deaths (44%) were recorded for vehicle operators without seat belts in 2015. Looking at passenger deaths, 46% died without seat belts.

Next: Cheap gas means more drivers on the road.

15. More drivers than ever to watch

car pileup

There are more people driving than ever. | Micah Wright/The Cheat Sheet

While gas prices are now higher in most U.S. states, the multiple years of cheap oil meant more drivers on the road and therefore more danger for everyone. In 2015, drivers set a new record with 3.09 million miles. That high mile count meant the jump in crash deaths held at a reasonable rate. But the fact remains that the more often you drive, the more often you put yourself and others in danger.

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