From ITO, here’s a map of all US traffic fatalities from 2001-2009 (I suggest full-screen view). The view above is centred on the Puget Sound Region, but you can explore the all 50 states if you’d like. Each dot represents a life lost, and there’s some data about the person. The data show an astonishing 326,251 deaths over that 9 year period, though thankfully traffic deaths have tailed off the last few years to around 33,000 from more than 40,000 per year in the the 20 years, and a peak of 50,000 per year 30 years ago.

Please be safe on the roads, friends.

77 Replies to “Map of U.S. Traffic Accident Fatalities”

  1. I wonder if this just like homicide rates and KIAs in the military. Advances in trauma care and emergency response have reduced the number of deaths, but the underlying problem is still largely there.

    1. I’m only speculating, but I think improvements in car safety have made the biggest difference. Most cars these days are huge and have loads of safety features aimed at protecting passengers. Compare a 1990 Honda Civic with one from today–the 1990 feels like a tin can compared to the modern car. If you look at the broader map, most of the fatalities are “vehicle occupant”. Making occupants less likely to die in the event of a crash would logically lower total vehicular fatalities even if it didn’t lower the total number of crashes.

      The sad irony is that the more isolated drivers become from the outside world, the more likely they are to cause damage to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. (Again, this is speculative and I have no hard data for this assertion.) Some safety features help keep drivers from crushing people (antilock brakes, for example) but improvements like airbags and crumple zones just make the vehicle into a safer weapon.

      1. In addition to the facts you have raised, vehicles handle better today, even at higher speeds, drivers are ensconced in bucket seats and nearly every car model today has power steering and climate control (air conditioning) and a sound system of hi-fidelity, so…

        Drivers have an even greater disconnect and false sense of security that they can avoid, maneuver around and/or stop in time from high-speeds and tailgating.

        Back when cars had bench seats, hub brakes, and people drove with an (at-least-partially) open window listening to a tinny single-speaker AM radio, they were less likely to do some of the dangerous maneuvers they have no qualms doing today.

      2. I’m surprised to see what amounts to a couple of anti-safety-equipment tirades on here. Should motorcyclists stop wearing the ole brain bucket so they can engage with the city’s streets more directly as well? *sheesh*

        While I suppose mounting the driver to the hood as an impromptu bumper would ensure they drove slowly and safely for their own sake, I would argue that these safety improvements have reduced highway fatalities- that is what they were intended for. We don’t have airbags and crush zones for hitting a pedestrian, to be sure. Crashes at city road speed limits are not really fast enough to be fatal even in an old jalopy; certainly not when the thing you’re crashing into is other people.

        I just hope Google and the State governments hurry up and bring on the driver-less cars- then you’ll see your fatalities drop off.

      3. Cacadianone, I’m making two points:

        1. Vehicular fatalities are likely down because cars are safer for the car’s occupants. The statistics don’t distinguish between highway and local roads. I agree that airbags and crumple zones help with reducing fatalities, but I don’t agree that arterial speed limits are low. 35 or 40 mph with a couple tons of steel is a LOT of force.

        2. As drivers get more isolated from the world they are driving in, they become more dangerous. Erik G. does a far better job than I do of making this point. But having been stuck on a bicycle between a Hummer and the curb I can assure you that it’s far more anxiety provoking that riding next to a tiny old Tercel.

      4. There was a great comment by someone on a documentary about auto accidents. They suggested that because people feel safer in their cars they don’t drive as carefully because they believe they are protected. They suggested that people would drive much more safely if they had a big metal spike on their steering wheel.

  2. Reminding people to be safe on the roads is great, but as long as there are almost no consequences to killing someone with a vehicle, I’m afraid we will never see significant decreases in these types of fatalities.

      1. On the other hand, “With some 15 deaths a year for every 100,000 people, the road fatality rate in America is 60% above the OECD average.” — http://www.economist.com/node/18620944

        Increased driver training (how not to mow down wheelchair users in intersections a.k.a. yielding 101) and continued road diets (vs. say, the Lake City Speedway) should help reduce the carnage rates. Or taking away the right to drive, instead of just $42 fines for “unsafe lane changes.”

        Want that license back? Okay, $1000 for a challenging multi-day driver safety training course. Psychotic episodes? Sorry, no license for you. Driving only scales to a fraction of the total population, so might as well limit it to the competent.

      2. “With some 15 deaths a year for every 100,000 people, the road fatality rate in America is 60% above the OECD average.”

        That is the wrong ratio to look at. It should be road fatalities per million miles driven, not per 100,000 population. Americans probably drive more miles per year per person than a lot of other countries. So, with more miles driven, you would expect more accidents.

        I have not been to Europe myself, but someone I know who visits Great Britain every year, says they are absolutely crazy drivers over there. I don’t know how that translates into road fatalities, but I would like to see a comparison between U.S. and Great Britain on a per passenger mile basis.

        Does Germany still have basically unlimited speeds on their autobahns? If so, how is that working for them?

      3. Norman’s right here. Deaths per Vehicle Miles (Kilometers) Traveled is the standard way to compare. On that metric the USA is slightly better than Germany but worse than the UK and better than Ireland. The place you really don’t want to drive is the area previously known as Czechoslovakia! Japan is pretty bad too. One thing to keep in mind too is that most injuries happen in metro areas but most fatalities happen in rural areas. Higher speeds, longer medical response times and less highway engineering (i.e. Jersey Barriers to prevent head on collisions) are all reasons for this. Didn’t find the miles traveled per capita but it can likely be derived from the chart data. I think it’s a pretty good guess that given the size of our country and love of the automobile the US will win that competition foot to the floor :=

    1. +1

      I’ll add that a significant amount of nonsense could be stopped if police everwhere started a ruthless enforcement campaign against violating pedestrian rights of way. Right on red through a crosswalk with a WALK sign is a particularly common infraction as is failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk (marked or unmarked).

      All of us who have driven have done it, my hypocritical self included. It’s time for the police to crack down on this behavior.

      1. This happens to me almost every time I get off the 245 and wait to cross 156th Ave NE at Northup/20th. The city even re-signalized the intersections recently so that the turning traffic still has a red light (dedicated right turn lane) when the crosswalk changes to walk, and yet people continue to blaze on through it after looking left for oncoming traffic.

      2. If a pedestrian has their foot in the roadway, yes, it is illegal. Now, am I going to stick my foot out there when I know some *s*hole is going to “not see” me? No. So I guess it’s not technically illegal. Good enough for you, Norman?

      3. My understanding is that current WA traffic rules require that you give one lane to a pedestrian crossing in a marked crosswalk. And it doesn’t matter if your light is red green or purple. That would mean that a pedestrian stepping off the curb closest to a driver waiting to turn right on red would have to wait until the pedestrian reaches the centerline of a four lane road.

  3. Unless I’m overlooking it, one memorable crash is missing this map. November 13th, 2002, a family of four was killed in a fiery crash when SUV rear-ended a stalled car on 405 just north of Kirkland’s city limits. No charges were filed in the case.

    http://www.totalobscurity.com/archives/news/2002/suv-cellphone-crash.htm

    But I do see a bus/pedestrian fatality on this map that I remember, when in late July of 2002 a bus in Fremont which was traveling west on 35th turned south onto Fremont Ave and ran over two women in the crosswalk, killing one.

    1. …. and according to newspaper articles from the time, the bus driver in the Fremont pedestrian fatality case claimed the glare from the sun temporarily blinded him. This was on July 23rd, at 6:30 PM.

    2. They missed the cyclist fatality on Willows a few years back when a drunk crossed the center line and the oncoming traffic lane and killed a woman. Also missing is the fatality during a Cascade ride (Flying Wheels) where a person was killed on East Lake Samammish. If I’m remembering correctly that was because of a mentally ill person joining in on the ride rather than the motorist. Better data is probably available from http://ghostbikes.org/.

  4. The distribution of pedestrian fatalities in downtown in interesting. A cluster centered on Westlake Center, which doesn’t surprise me, but only one on 1st Ave; none on 2nd Ave and the Waterfront, which also have very high pedestrian traffic. I-5 seems to be the other feature these events cluster around. Maybe drivers coming off the freeway aren’t in “city mode” yet?

    1. Don’t forget those who are entering the “free”way and get into Speed Mode a block or two away.

      As one who used to walk up Elliott towards the market every day and used to cross the on-ramp to the viaduct there, I saw this daily.

      In fact, I’ll bet that if the tunnel gets built, this type of crash will increase, as the line of sight and eyes-adjustment factors will come into place at those on- and off-ramps.

      1. Of all the criticisms I’ve heard leveled at the tunnel, this strikes me as the least plausible. The tunnel has no exits between between Republican and Royal Brougham, and has no straight exits like the ones at the current Elliot/Western viaduct connection which, as you correctly note, are the worst for drivers speeding and not seeing pedestrians.

        The tunnel doesn’t really improve the pedestrian experience in SODO (except perhaps the mile or so of bike/ped trail they built on Marginal Way) but, along with the Mercer Corridor and Aurora Street Grid projects, it will make the pedestrian experience between Mercer and SODO dramatically better.

    2. Most downtown streets are one-way, and many intersections on 1st Ave (and most all of them along the waterfront) are T junctions rather than 4-ways. Fewer turns, and fewer turns being made while trying to beat oncoming traffic, probably has a big influence on collision rates. And on one-way streets, pedestrians only have to look out for one direction of traffic when crossing, which presumably makes it easier to avoid being hit (I suspect this is a big factor in jaywalking collision rates).

  5. Especially after some especially horrible crashes caused by drivers who have already killed before, it’s hard to argue against life in prison for the guilty- not as a deterrent, but just to keep these people from ever driving a car again. But a couple of other points:

    First, the argument over firearms, owning and carrying, applies more forcefully to private automobiles- which really do make killers out of more ordinary people than firearms. There should be no right whatever for anyone unskilled and untrained in either implement to possess it in public.

    Based on rigorous road-test results, licensing examiners should have the authority to issue a yearly bus-pass in return for the license fee in place of a driving license for those who can’t handle a car. Great for transit ridership and traffic congestion reduction both.

    “The Gaming Industry” should be called gambling, and “Sport Utility Vehicles” should be called trucks- with proof of necessary extra proficiency and routine medical examinations required for operation.

    And second, both the law and the insurance industry should demand that decent-sized side-windows and over-the-shoulder vision should no longer be optional for car manufacturers. These last years, every new model seems to have smaller windows. Even dealers tell me the “high beltline” look is zero engineering and all styling.

    Evidently the consumer public likes cars that look mean, maybe because so many people personally feel weak and helpless. If so, high school phys-ed should start to include aikido, for the sake of automotive design.

    My word to Toyota every service-visit: I’ll buy a new Prius when you give me something I can both see out of and stand to look at.

    Mark Dublin

  6. In 1974 there were mandatory nation-wide speed limits of 55 MPH because of gasoline shortages. By that same time, Ralph’s Nader’s 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed was affecting some other laws, like seat belts, safer road barriers and so on. And soon road deaths per year peaked. Unfortunately, there is not much protection from drunk drivers, speed freaks and carelessness. Now add distractions like texting, and road deaths will probably level off. I’m for longer prison terms for those guilty of negligent homicide.

  7. OK, who’s the joker who programmed the search window to suggest:

    “Seattle, King County, Вашингтон, United States of America” when I type in “seattle, wa” and click on the magnifying glass button?

    Yes, it was the “Soviet of Washington” once, but really now.

  8. I notice a small cluster of fatalities at I-5 and Olive Way…that intersection needs serious attention. The off-ramp from I-5 NB onto Olive Way EB is very short (requiring rapid deceleration) and drivers are blind to the pedestrian walkway until they’re about 50′ from it. I see near misses every day, and I’ve had a couple close calls as a Zipcar driver, even when driving very defensively.

    1. SDOT is working on the onramp right now, don’t know if they have any plans for the offramp though.

      1. I haven’t been over there recently, did anything come of the old plans to add a bus stop there? The idea was to remove the diversion the 545 makes to Bellevue Ave in the AM.

  9. http://t4america.org/resources/dangerousbydesign2011/states/worst-metros/

    According to “Transportation for America”, out of 52 U.S. metro areas over 1 million in population, Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue ranks 46th in “Pedestrian Danger Index.”

    In other words, according to their criteria, the Seattle area is the 7th-safest for pedestirans out of those 52 metro areas.

    It does not appear that Seattle has a particular problem with traffic accidents compared to the rest of the country, at least where pedestrians killed in traffic accidents is concerned.

    1. Norman, that’s like saying “All my neighbors are drunk every day at noon. I am only drunk by noon six days a week, so I don’t have a particular drinking problem.”

      We have a serious problem, too.

      We live in a country where someone cannot only kill someone on the freeway recklessly, but suffer no professional or legal consequences:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandy_Norwood

      1. Not the same, at all. How do you define “serious”?

        We have a “problem” which is less than almost all other metro areas in the U.S. And it has improved greatly over the past couple of decades.

        People get killed by trains, too. Is that a “serious problem” to you?

      2. Trains have not killed hundreds of people a day, every day, for the past 70 years. If they did, it would be a serious problem. If airplanes did, it would also be a serious problem. If godzilla did, it would be a serious problem.

        But they don’t. That’s why no one can make a map of the above with Godzilla, trains or airplanes.

      3. Trains don’t carry nearly as many people as motor vehicles every day.

        There are vastly more motor vehicles carrying vastly more people in the U.S. every day, than ther are trains.

        Therefore, you would expect more deaths from motor vehicle accidents than train accidents, would you not? How many train trips per day are there in the U.S. versus motor vehicle trips, including buses?

        But, the facts are that deaths from motor vehicle accidents have been generally falling over the past couple of decades, and that Seattle is one of the safest cities in the U.S. for pedestrians, regarding deaths from motor vehicles.

        So, why now, all of a sudden, is this a “serious problem”? What has suddenly changed for the worse?

        How many deaths from horse accidents do you think there were in the “good old days” before motor vehicles?

      4. All of a sudden? Says who? I’ve always considered the leading cause of death of people aged 0-24 to be a serious problem.

      5. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062245/1901-07-14/ed-1/seq-6/

        This is an interesting article I ran across a while ago. From The Washington Times, July 14, 1901, Page 6, Image 6. Middle column, 3rd paragraph down from the top, “Railway Casualties”

        “The report of the Interstate Commerce Commission brings out some curious and interesting facts. One of them, indeed, is nothing less than startling. It is stated that during the thirteen years ending with June 30, 1900, the total causualties upon the railways of the United States were 86,277 killed, and 469,027 injured. This is equal to the loss upon the battlefield in some of the most tremendous of modern wars. It seems as if it could scarcely be possible. But then we must remember that the railways extend in every part of our vast domain and have an aggregate of more than a quarter of a million miles of track, with the trains in ceaseless operation.

        “The figures showing the deaths and injuries, moreover, seem less amazing when we consider them in connections with the number of passengers carried. It has been remarked, frequently, that everything in the world is to be considered comparatively, and when we compare the number killed or injured, the proportion does not appear to be great.

        “We have not immediately at hand the total number of passengers for the entire period named, but for the single year ending June 30, 1900, the number of passengers reached the almost inconceivable figures of 576,865,230. If we assume that for the entire period the annual average was four hundred millions (probably an underestimate) we have a grand total of more than five billions. So that there was only one person killed out of nearly, or quite, sixty thousand carried; and only one injured out of nearly eleven thousand carried. Of course, it will be understood that we are using round numbers in stating these proportions, the purpose being merely to convey a general idea.

        “We see, therefore, that while the list of causualties standing by itself seems appalling, when we take everything into view railway travel is not so very dangerous, after all. It has been stated that far more people, in proportion, are killed by horses in runaways than meet death by accidents on railroad cars.”

        So, back in the “good old days”, before motor vehicles were carrying most passenger trips in the U.S., this writer considered one out of every 60,000 passengers carried on a train being killed and one out of every 11,000 being injured, to be “not so dangerous, after all.”

      6. I still find your logic lacking, Norman. If your neighbor said “I am only drunk at noon five days a week, all my neighbors are drunk at noon six days a week. But it;s not a serious problem because I used to be drunk at noon six days a week and my neighbors all seven.” You’d probably decide to move, these guys are alcoholics. You can trick yourself into thinking being drunk at noon five days a week is fine, but it’s not.

      7. Here is your logic, Andrew: “You’d probably decide to move, ”

        Move to where? I just showed you that Seattle is about the least dangerous Metro area in the U.S. for pedestrians. So, where would you move to that is “safer” than here?

      8. It was an analogy, an ancient technique in rhetoric, Norman; it was not meant to be taken literally.

        Here you can learn all of the class rhetorical techniques:
        http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm

        This way you when someone says something like “he had the hair of a lion”, you won’t be confused and think he actually had a lion’s hair, instead you’ll understand that is a metaphor.

      9. Click the link, a metaphor is another classic rhetorical technique. These are examples. The technique of giving examples is called “exemplum”. Learning these will help you understand the conversations others are having and will also help you to avoid becoming so easily confused.

      10. I am not confused at all. You are the one who is confused. You seem to think that Seattle has some particular problem with traffic accidents, when the statistics show that Seattle is one of the safest cities in the U.S.

        I don’t know how to explain it more clearly than that. If that doesn’t work for you, maybe someone can make you an analogy or a metaphor to simplify it to your level.

      11. You hit it on the head, there, Norman. Seattle is safe by American standards, but, as in my analogy, the american standard is one of the every-day noon-time drunk, by international standards

      12. The target should be zero fatalities, not “we’re safer than most of the US”. Even if it is unattainable, fewer people will die as a result.

  10. To give some context, the US lost 405,399 military personnel during WWII and approximately 625,000 during the Civil War. Vietnam comes in at a paltry 58,209.

    (Those are only military casualties, not civilian).

    1. Vietnam comes in at a paltry 58,209

      I’m sure you mean no disrespect but there is nothing paltry about the loss of a single life. I expect this was meant as a response to Anc’s comment at the top of this post but it sounds too much like the thinking of politicians and bureaucrats who callously weigh lives against populist sentiment. And another thing to remember about Vietnam is 1/3 of the casualties were draftees.

      1. I had absolutely no intention of minimizing deaths related to the Vietnam war. I thought about that post long and hard and used “paltry” in reference to the day-to-day carnage on our roads relative to the deaths in Vietnam, which are staggering. In retrospect, if I had to think about it I probably should have reworded it. Apologies to anyone offended. I really am just stunned that we continue to blow off our road fatalities in this country as a cost of doing business. At the rate we are currently killing people on our roads, we hit a “Vietnam” level in just over a year and a half.

      2. Having followed your posts for some time I know you didn’t but it seemed like a poor choice of words. I’m glad you clarified where you were going with this. A big difference is that people by and large choose to drive and by and large choose to ignore the risk. I’d venture a guess more people are afraid to fly than ride in a car even though by virtually any metric you can think of commercial aviation is the safest form of transportation ever devised (much more likely to die on the way to the airport). I’d disagree that we “blow it off” as we’ve focus an enormous amount of effort on not only car design (crumple zones, passenger restraints, etc.) but on highway design (jersey barriers, reflective markers, rumble strips, etc.) and education (drivers ed is much better today than in the 70’s when it first started, don’t drive drunk and stronger enforcement). What’s lacking is a major effort by government to move freight traffic off the highways and back to the rails where it belongs. Trucks do way more damage to the roads than what they pay for in weight fees and fuel taxes. And we also need to just have the guts to at least revoke driving privileges for people that kill other people with their car. I mean, this is supposed to be a country where individuals are responsible for their actions, right?

  11. I suspect improvements in tire technology have helped lower crashes and fatalities as well. As a kid I remember numerous times my dad had to stop and change a flat tire. I’ve almost never had to do that.

    In addition more tires are speed rated. As a kid I remember numerous crashes where there was an unexplained high speed crash (vehicle leaves the road.) I suspect that those tires delaminated at speed precipitating the crash.

    The other thing that may lower fatalities is congestion! Congestion around cities lowers overall speed of vehicles and thus when they do crash, it’s with much less damage.

    1. Don’t forget our first rate trauma center in the name of Harborview Medical Center. The doctors, nurses and everyone else at Harborview, as well as our medical professionals who are first on the scene of an accident, work miracles in saving people’s lives. They have much more advanced equipment to save a life than they did just 10 years ago. The advancements in medical technology are progressing every day.

      1. I’ve always proposed that the true cost of driving a vehicle should include not only road construction and maintenance, but also the cost of trauma hospitals and emergency rooms. And yes, I know that ERs are used for other things besides car accidents. But does the gas tax do anything to fund Harborview today?

      2. Auto insurance pays for the treatment of injuries suffered in auto accidents. Motorists pay many billions of dollars per year in auto insurance, a lot of which ends up going to emergency rooms and hospitals.

      3. The insured motorists wind up paying for uninsured motorists, too, through higher premiums, because the hospitals charge more for people who are covered to make up for the losses on the people who aren’t covered.

        It is true that uninsured motorists cost other motorists money.

      4. Hospitals don’t bill auto insurance directly, so that’s not true. They bill the patient and it’s up to them to figure out how to pay the bill, either out of their pocket or by insurance reimbursement. If you’re a pedestrian hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver you’re screwed. Likewise if you’re in an auto accident and don’t have uninsured driver coverage. I know several people who have had to file bankruptcy because of uninsured drivers.

      5. Unless it was a hit and run, and you don’t know who hit you, your insurance company will sue the person who hit you to recover the damages. If that person is uninsured, it is that uninsured motorist who will wind up bankrupt.

        Nonetheless, uninsured motorists are a drain on everyone else. Many uninsured motorists are illegal aliens, who shouldn’t be here in the first place. But, I think everyone agrees that uninsured motorists are a problem. They are a small minority of all motorists, however. But, that has noting to do with driving, in general.

        Everyone should also have their own health insurance, to cover things like being injured by people with no insurance and no money. If you visit ER’s you will find that car accident victims are a small part of the patients in ER’s. Mostly health issues, like heart attacks, broken hips, etc., and on-the-job accidents.

        And violence like people being beaten, stabbed or shot on buses or at bus stops, like the Tuba Man.

        I have been in an emergency room about a half dozen times in my life, and never from an auto accident.

      6. Right. And nobody has brought up anyone who was killed or injured by cars. Like there is not actually a map showing each person who was killed by a car in this very article, with a little description of the accident, including the age of the person killed.

        Talking about specific victims is really out of line here, isn’t it?

        [ot]

      7. Another huge factor is the equipment and training of first responders, i.e. fire and ems. While there were ambulances and aid cars prior to the 70s, the show “Emergency” really was catalyst in creating EMTs and Paramedic services nationwide. Coupled with extrication tools like the Hurst tool, many victims were saved that would previously would have died. Take at look at Seattle 911 someday. Seattle Fire responses are dominated by medical calls. Some days don’t even have any fire calls.

      8. Everyone should also have their own health insurance, to cover things like being injured by people with no insurance and no money.

        Well Norman I’d never have figured you as an advocate for Obama Care. But, why I ask if everyone has their own health insurance is there any worry about being injured by people with no insurance? And since people with no money can’t buy insurance I guess the only answer is to create a new entitlement program.

  12. Auto manufactures are producing safer cars but our distractions are increasing. More people texting and driving or not paying attention because they are distracted. Hopefully auto manufactures will design innovative ways to integrate cellphone/texting with the vehicle.

    We’re always concerned about safety.

    Thanks,

  13. With the Mayor’s latest talk about safety and reducing speed limits, this map is interesting in that it shows how few pedestrian fatalities occur on the residential streets that he wants to lower the speed limit on.

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