How Many People Die From Car Accidents Each Year?

Car accidents are annually responsible for approximately 1.3 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projects there were an estimated 42,915 traffic fatalities in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase compared to 2020 and the highest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.

Fifty-five percent of motor vehicle deaths were the result of single-vehicle crashes, according to 2020 statistics published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) reports that road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among people aged five to 29. More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, and they are also the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy U.S. citizens traveling abroad.

In addition to devastation from the loss of life, car accident deaths also cause considerable economic loss to individuals, families, and countries. The WHO reports these financial losses are related to the cost of medical treatment related to injury, lost productivity for those who are disabled or killed by their injuries, and for family members who take time off of work or school due to caregiving or grief. The toll is expensive: deaths from car accidents ultimately cost most countries 3 percent of their gross domestic product.

Who Is Most at Risk of Dying in a Traffic Accident?

Though fatal traffic accidents can happen unexpectedly at any time or place, there are risk factors that affect a person’s vulnerability on the road.


Teen drivers (between the ages of 16 and 19) are more likely than any other age group to be involved in a car accident, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


At all ages, males had higher per capita crash death rates than females in 2020. The highest rates of crash deaths were amongst males aged 20 to 24, according to the IIHS.

Socioeconomic Status

WHO reports show that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are statistically more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes.

Leading Causes of Deadly Car Accidents

Unfortunately, human error and lack of responsible driving behavior account for the most fatalities on the road. These deaths could all be preventable. Fatal car accidents are most frequently caused by these leading factors:

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

Every day, 32 people in the United States die in drunk driving car crashes. That’s one person every 45 minutes.

Lack of Proper Seat Belt Use

Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash. In 2020, of those that were fatally injured in passenger vehicle crashes (aged 13 and older), only 44 percent of drivers and 41 percent of passengers were properly wearing their seatbelts.


Speeding was a factor in 29 percent of fatal car accidents in 2020 and has been a factor in more than 25 percent of crash deaths over the past decade.

Distracted Driving

Distraction types vary and are difficult to quantify, but it is estimated that they accounted for more than 8 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2020. Many were caused by cell phone use while driving.

Drowsy Driving

Driving while not fully awake and alert accounted for 1.6 percent of deadly traffic accidents in 2020.

What to Do if Your Loved One Passed Away in a Car Accident

If a car accident is in some way connected to the cause of death of your loved one, you may wish to pursue legal recourse. These cases are often complex because, unlike in personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff is deceased. Survivors connected to the deceased may experience extreme emotional distress and or financial hardship and may therefore be qualified to receive financial compensation for accident-related damages.

The requirements for eligibility to bring a wrongful death lawsuit can vary from state to state. This right is generally reserved for only the immediate family members, such as spouses or children, of the deceased. It may also extend to the decedent’s estate representative, other close family members, life partners, those who are financially dependent on the deceased, and or those who have suffered financially due to the victim’s death.

Each state has a statute of limitations, or time limit, to file a lawsuit after an incident. These can range from one year to more than four years, after which time you may be ineligible to receive compensation for accident-related losses, including in the event of wrongful death. These statutes can be complex depending on whether a person passes away immediately from a car accident or whether their death is linked to an accident but occurred at a later time.

In these cases, consult a licensed attorney as soon as possible to seek legal advice surrounding the facts of your individual case. They can help determine your eligibility to take legal action, the statute timeline in your state related to your individual case and the right time to file your wrongful death lawsuit.

How Much Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?

As is the case in any lawsuit, there are many factors that affect the value of compensation survivors may receive from a wrongful death case. Facts that may be taken into consideration for the value of a wrongful death case may include:

  • The decedent’s age
  • The decedent’s future earning capacity if they had survived the accident
  • The decedent’s potential inheritance, if applicable
  • Services and benefits the decedent would have provided
  • Medical costs before death
  • Pain and suffering of close family members

An attorney who specializes in wrongful death cases can review your individual case to determine the value of damages you may be eligible to receive.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many people die from car accidents each year?

More than 46,000 people die in car crashes each year, according to Annual United States Road Crash Statistics (ASIRT). The U.S. traffic fatality rate is 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

When should I file a wrongful death lawsuit?

Your state’s statute of limitations determines how long you have to file a lawsuit in the event of wrongful death related to a car accident. However, these timelines can be complex, especially if the deceased did not immediately succumb to their car accident-related injuries. A wrongful death attorney can provide legal advice regarding your eligibility and timeline for pursuing legal recourse, as well as advocate for your full legal rights and ensure you receive fair compensation for any other accident-related damages to which you may be entitled.

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