What Are the Odds of Dying in a Car Crash? Know the Risk

Updated May 31, 2022
Damaged bumpers from car crash

The odds of dying in a car crash at any point in your lifetime are just under one percent, but your chance of dying in a car crash in any given year are much lower. Learning about these statistics can help you compare risk and understand a bit more about accident mortality.

Lifetime Odds of Dying in a Car Crash: 1 in 101

The current statistics for deaths due to car crashes have a couple of years' lag time, so the numbers here are from 2020. Still, these figures offer some important insights. The National Safety Council of America states that the odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 101. This means that for the average American, the probability of dying in a car crash is 0.99%. While this may seem high, it's important to understand it in context.

What Lifetime Risk Means

Lifetime risk can be a tricky concept to understand. Unfortunately, everyone will die of something, but lifetime risk helps break down the chances of dying of something specific. The fact is, 100% of people will die, but a little less than one percent will die in a car accident. This is not at all the same as your chance of dying in a car crash in any given year.

Chances of Dying in a Car Crash Compared to Other Lifetime Risks

A 1 in 101 chance of dying in a car crash can seem uncomfortably high, but it's actually considerably lower than your chance of dying from something else. According to the National Safety Council of America, the average American has the following lifetime risks:

  • Heart disease - 16.67% or 1 in 6 die of heart disease. This is more than 16 times the risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident.
  • Cancer - 14.29% or 1 in 7 die of cancer, making that cause of death about 15 times more likely than a car crash.
  • Opioid overdose - 1.49% or 1 in 67 will die of an overdose on opioids. That's about 1.5 times as many people who die in vehicle accidents.
  • Falls - .98% or 1 in 102 will die of falls, about the same number of fatalities as car accidents.
  • Plane - The odds of dying in a car crash vs. a plane can't be calculated because the National Safety Council of America reports that plane fatalities are too rare to include in risk calculations.

Odds of Dying in a Car Crash Per Year: 1 in 8,527

The lifetime risk can help you understand your chances of dying in a crash at any point in your life span, but the picture is a bit more confusing when it comes to the chances of dying in a car crash in a year. That risk changes with the specific year, depending on laws, speed limits, the economy, motor vehicle safety features, and many other factors. However, there are statistics available for 2020.

According to the Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 38,824 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2020. The United States Census Bureau reports that the population that year was 331,449,281. This means that 0.012% of the US population died in a car accident in 2020. That's 1 in 8,527 people.

Chance of Dying in a Car Crash Each Time You Drive: 1 in 7,142,900

Another statistic that can be difficult to calculate is your chance of dying in a car accident every time you get behind the wheel. There are several factors that make this confusing. First, you need to know how many fatal accidents happen per mile. Then you need to know how many miles the average American drives in a single car trip. Fortunately, those statistics are available.

The NHTSA Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020 reports that there are 1.34 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average trip length for a person driving a car for any purpose is 10.7 miles. Dividing that into the 100 million vehicle miles mentioned above, that's 1.34 fatalities per 9,345,794 trips or a 0.000014% chance of dying in a fatal car accident every time you get in the car. Your odds are 1 in 7,142,900.

Odds of Dying in a Car Crash Per Mile: 1 in 74,626,866

Using the NHTSA statistic of 1.34 fatalities for every 100 million miles travelled, you can find your odds of dying in a car crash in 1 mile of driving. You have a 0.000001% chance of dying each time you drive a mile, which is about 1 in 74,626,866.

Keep in mind, this is an average. The type of mile you're driving can have a dramatic impact on the your safety. Driving a mile on an icy mountain road at night is not the same as driving on a well-designed freeway with very little traffic.

Average Accident Statistics vs. Your Personal Risk

Woman buckles down seat belt in car

Statistics on dying in a car crash are based on averages, not on specific scenarios. As with any mathematical odds, you must consider how often you drive, your occupation, and the average distance you drive for the chances of dying in a car crash. Your driving history, whether you wear a seatbelt, your alcohol consumption, the traffic and weather conditions where you live, and other details are also important. All of these factors can play an important role in your odds of being in a car crash as well as your odds of dying in one.

For example, someone who rarely rides or drives in a car has a much lower that average chance of dying in a car crash. Conversely, someone who drives all day in bad weather, doesn't wear a seatbelt, and has a history of traffic violations may have much higher than average odds of dying in a car accident.

45% of Fatal Accidents Involved Risky Behavior

According to the NHTSA, 45% of fatal car accidents in 2020 included a driver who was exhibiting one or more of the following risky behaviors:

  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Consuming alcohol before driving
  • Driving above the posted speed limit

69% of Fatalities Were in Urban Areas

If you drive in urban settings, you may be slightly more likely to get in a fatal crash. Just over two thirds of motor vehicle accident deaths occurred near a city.

Statistic of Dying in a Car Crash by Age and Gender

Your age and gender can also impact your odds of dying in a car crash. This is important information to keep in mind when considering your personal risk.

Male Fatalities Are More Common Than Female

Men are considerably more likely to die in a car accident. In fact, the NHTSA reports that 72.2% of fatalities are men, compared to 27.8% women. This means that 2.6 times more likely to die in a car accident than women.

Statistics for Teenage Deaths by Car Crash

Teens have one of the highest rates of traffic deaths of all age groups. The CDC reported in 2019 that about 2,400 American teens between the ages of 13 and 19 died in car accidents. 258,000 teens were injured and treated in emergency rooms. This averaged to more than six teens dying each day in a car crash. This age group is three time more likely to die in a car crash than people 20 years old and older.

High Risk for Seniors

Senior Caucasian man driving convertible

People aged 65 and older also have a high rate of car accident fatalities. Records show that 6,549 seniors died in accidents in 2020. People 65 and older account for almost 17% of car accident deaths nationwide, according to the NHSTA.

States With Highest and Lowest Odds of Dying in a Car Crash

Where you live can also affect your chances of dying in a car accident. The deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes fluctuate from one state to another. Some states have a higher death rate for pickups, while other states have a higher death rate for cars. Much of this depends on the economics of a state, as an agricultural state will have more pickups and SUVs than a state with many large cities where cars are more prevalent for transportation.

Because each state has a different population, it makes the most sense to look at the number of fatal accidents per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. Remember that the national average is 1.34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.

States With the Highest Rate of Fatalities

The following states have the most fatalities:

  • South Carolina - South Carolina has the highest level of traffic fatalities in the nation with 1.97 motor vehicle deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
  • Mississippi - Mississippi has the second highest rate with 1.9 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
  • Arkansas - 1.88 fatalities happen for every 100 million vehicle miles travelled on Arkansas roads, making that state the third highest.
  • Montana - With a fatality rate of 1.76 car accident deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled, Montana has the fourth highest rate in the country.

States With the Lowest Rate of Fatalities

There are also states that stand out for their low levels of traffic fatalities:

  • Massachusetts - Massachusets has the lowest odds of dying in a car crash with 0.63 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
  • Minnesota - If you live in Minnesota, you have the second lowest chance of dying in a car crash with only 0.76 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
  • New Hampshire - Coming in as the third safest state in terms of car accident deaths, New Hampshire has 0.87 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
  • New Jersey - New Jersey has the fourth lowest level of fatalities, with 0.88 car accidents deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.

Vehicle Fatalities by Number of Vehicles

The NHTSA tracks the type of vehicle and whether it's a single vehicle or multiple vehicles involved in the crashes. This can help you understand a bit more about your personal risk.

  • Single vehicle - In 2020, 56% of deaths by vehicle crash in the United States (U.S.) were single vehicle crashes. This means only one car was involved in the accident.
  • Multiple vehicles - 44% of car crash deaths involved more than one vehicle.

Road to Zero

The National Safety Council spearheads some of the various risk mitigation actions that many states have implemented over the past few years. So far, many cities have initiated change set out by the National Safety Council's Road to Zero Program. The program sets 2050 as the year to realize their goal of an end to roadway deaths in the U.S. Road to Zero aims to make streets safer via the redesign of known high-crash areas and lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol levels.

What Are the Odds of Dying in a Car Crash Worldwide?

According to the CDC (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention), 1.35 million people are killed worldwide in vehicle accidents every year. The Association for Safe International Road Travel reports that around the world, 3,700 people lose their lives each day in a traffic accident. Of those deaths, over 50% are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. This makes death by traffic crashes the eighth leading cause of death worldwide. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 22 countries have changed laws to implement best practices in an effort to reduce road-related fatalities.

Car Crash Deaths by Income Bracket Worldwide

The largest number of deaths worldwide are of people in the low to middle income brackets. This is roughly 90% of the traffic-related deaths. Ironically, only 60% of the world's vehicles are owned by the population in this income bracket.

More World Statistics of Dying in a Car Crash

Other worldwide statistics include the following:

  • Traffic deaths are the No. 1 cause of death in children ages 5 to 14.
  • Traffic deaths are the No. 1 cause of death in young adults ages 15 to 29.
  • Every 24 seconds, one person dies in a traffic crash/accident.

Reducing Your Odds of Dying From a Vehicle Crash

Your odds of dying in a car crash are never zero, but many of the factors involved in fatal accidents are under your control. By using the various statistics, you can begin to see a pattern. If you don't drink and drive, always wear you seatbelt, obey the speed limit, and use safe driving practices whenever possible, you can reduce your chances of a car accident and give yourself a little more peace of mind.

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What Are the Odds of Dying in a Car Crash? Know the Risk