Motor vehicle deaths have dropped dramatically since 1975 and the recent uptick has also now reversed.
Both the total number of motor vehicle deaths and also the deaths per mile driven declined in the most recent year of data, 2017, which has recently been released by NHTSA. The deaths and death rate have not yet matched their previous low that occurred in 2011, but the slight uptick in deaths and the death rate in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 has now been reversed. Overall, deaths related to motor vehicles were down by 2% in 2017 compared to 2016.
One fatality fact we are very happy to report is that teen auto-related deaths continue to decline. Teen deaths in 2017 were the lowest in three years. In the 1970s, teens were dying at a rate of about 9,000 per year on average in America and made up about 30% of overall auto-related deaths by age group. Today, that number is under 3,000 per year and less than 10% of the overall deaths related to autos are teens. There are many factors that went into this decline but graduated drivers licensing is one major change that many point to as a positive.
Younger children fare even better. In the late 1970s, about 3,300 children under 13 years of age were killed annually in automotive-related incidents making up about 8% of overall auto-related deaths. In 2017 that number had dropped to 939, and the percentage of children under 13 in auto-related fatalities had dropped to less than 2%. As we have previously reported, the one type of fatality that has declined most dramatically is bicycle/auto-related deaths of children.
One thing to keep in perspective when discussing the topic of automobile-related deaths is that it is not the same thing as “deaths in car crashes.” Of the 37,133 people who tragically died in 2017, a third were not in cars, pickups, crossovers or minivans. We tend to think of automotive-related deaths as “car crashes,” but NHTSA includes pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, ATV-riders, buses, trucks and other types of deaths in the total (as it should). An ATV rider who dies on an off-road trail has very little to do with the topic of auto safety. Every death is a tragedy, but many news reports couple “car safety” with automotive deaths in the same story and the topics are not one and the same.
This positive news about motor vehicle-related deaths won’t receive the same volume of coverage by the mainstream media that the slight increases of the past few years did, but good news is rarely popular.
For a full breakdown of the 2017 NHTSA fatality data, please visit IIHS’s site.
Image notes: Chart courtesy of IIHS. Teen drive image courtesy of Chevrolet. Baby and father image courtesy of Toyota.