Written by attorney David M. Van Sant

Car Accident Fatality Rate Drops Sharply Over the Years

In recent years, the actual number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has dramatically declined despite the fact the population has exploded. What changed?

In the United States, we use the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which went into action in 1975. FARS collects data on fatal traffic crashes in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, 32,885 people died in a motor vehicle collision, which was the lowest number of fatalities since 1949 (30,246 fatalities in 1949). This figure represents a 2.9 percent decline in the number of people killed from 2009 (33,883 people in 2009). (FARS)

In 2010, there were approximately 2.24 million people injured in motor vehicle accidents, as compared to 2.22 million people the year before. The NHTSA reports that in 1949, there were approximately 30,000 fatalities with a fatality rate of 4.00 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in that same year. The number of fatalities peaked in the mid 1970’s with nearly 60,000 fatalities in 1974 and a fatality rate above 7.00 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. (NHTSA)

The NHTSA reports that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fell to a historic low of 1.10 in 2010; however, the total injury rates remained the same in the years 2009 and 2010. In 2009 the fatality rate was 1.15 and in 2010 it was just 1.10, which represents a -4.3% change in the fatality and injury rates per 100 million VMT. (NHTSA)

In total, the number of fatal crashes in the United States decreased by 2.2 percent from 2009 to 2010, and in 2010 there were 75 people injured per 100 million vehicle miles of travel. (Trends: 2010) What’s interesting is that the occupant injury rate (including motorcyclists) per 100,000 population, declined by 13.6 percent from 1988 to 1992, and it decreased by 40.2 percent from 1992 to 2010. (Trends: 2010)

As far as the nonoccupant fatality rate per 100,000 population, it has declined by a whopping 58.9 percent from 1975 to 2010. The nonoccupant injury rate per 100,000 population has declined by 46.8 percent from 1988 to 2010. (Trends: 2010) According to the NHTSA, the nonoccupant fatality rate per 100,000 population has declined by 60.2 percent from 1975 to 2009.

Why the sharp decline in auto accidents? One would imagine that there would be an increase in injury crashes and fatalities when you consider the U.S. population was 149, 188, 130 in 1945, and 215,973, 199 in 1975, and today it has grown to 314,928, 496 according to the United States Census Bureau.

In 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was enacted with the purpose of allowing the federal government to both establish and enforce new safety standards for motor vehicles and for highway traffic safety. The Act created what is now known as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the act was the government’s response to the increasing number of injuries and fatalities. During this particular time period, the U.S. had seen a 6-fold increase in the number of fatalities and an 11-fold increase in the number of vehicles since 1925.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) claims that seat belts save more than 10,000 lives every year in the United States, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. Research has also found that child safety seats can reduce fatal injuries by 71% for infants less than one year of age, and by 54% for toddlers’ ages 1 to 4 years. What’s more, among passenger vehicle occupants over 4 years old, seat belts are estimated to save nearly 12,000 lives in 2000. (FARS

In 1960, there were 93, 803 deaths associated with unintentional injuries, and 41% of those were associated with car accidents. (National Safety Council Accident Facts, 1998)With the creation of the National Highway Safety Bureau, which is now the NHTSA, the dedication to preventing motor vehicle related injuries began with the first director, William Haddon. Haddon was able to recognize and identify human and motor vehicle factors that were resulting in crashes and by identifying those problems, the NHSB initiated a nationwide campaign to prevent motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths.

Over the years, the overall reduction of the death rate attributed to motor vehicle crashes represents a few dominating factors, one being the major public health response to manufacturing safer vehicles, and with the technological advances in automotive engineering such as crumple zones, and side-impact airbags.

However, not only has public awareness about distracted driving and drunk driving changed the driver behavior, but with the introduction of personal injury law, and the theory of “negligence" and product liability, drivers and manufacturers are being held accountable for their actions.

By putting a microscope on reckless and negligent driver behaviors, as well as putting the responsibility to produce safe automobiles in the automotive industry (under product liability law), the plaintiff’s lawyers have made a huge difference in the landscape. When people and automotive makers are aware that there are consequences to speeding, or drunk driving, or producing shoddy auto parts and automobiles, it makes them think twice before doing something that can endanger the safety of the public and the community.

If you have been injured in an auto accident involving a car, truck, motorcycle or big rig, you should contact an attorney at once to file a claim for compensation and to hold the responsible party accountable for their negligent actions.

Additional resources provided by the author

Van Sant Law, LLC is a personal injury law firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. The firm handles all types of personal injury cases including car accidents, workers’ compensation, dog bite claims, nursing home abuse, wrongful death claims and everything in between. The firm’s founder David Van Sant has the Avvo 10.0 out of 10.0 “Superb” rating, and he has received Avvo’s Clients’ Choice Award for providing excellent service to his clients. He has been included in the selection of Super Lawyers® and Rising Stars®, and he is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum – two of the most prestigious organizations for attorneys in the United States. To contact the firm, please call (404) 991-5950 or go online at

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