Car Fatalities in America

One story you’re not going to see leading tomorrow’s newspaper is “97 dead in fatal car accidents.” And yet in 2007, this country saw 37,284 people die in car wrecks. That averages out to 97 per day—much more than the seven people whose death in yesterday’s Metro crash has acquired so much coverage today. Obviously in part that’s because driving is much more popular than transit. Still, according to the Census Bureau 87.7 percent of people get to work either by driving alone or in car pools, while 4.7 percent take transit. That’s about 18 times more driving than transit usage. By contrast, 14 times more people die in car wrecks on an average day than died on the rare day that anyone died in a train crash. On a typical day, of course, the United States has zero train-related fatalities.

Long story short, investments in mass transit would have substantial public health benefits. And, indeed, since car wrecks disproportionately affect teenagers and young adults the impact in QALYs of even moderate reductions in automobile usage would be enormous. The good news about this, however, is that the death rate per 100 million VMT has been declining in recent years:


This is rarely discussed, but the consequence is that 1,000 fewer people died in car wrecks in 2007 than died in 1994 even though total vehicle miles traveled increased from 2,358 billion to 3,030 billion. That’s a huge gain for the country.