Quick California Traffic Safety Statistics

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported 37,133 deaths from traffic accidents in 2017. This resulted in an overall fatality rate of 11.1 per 100,000 residents nationwide. By comparison, California witnessed 3,602 traffic deaths for a rate of 9.1 per 100,000 residents. Knowing some key statistics about California traffic safety can help drivers recognize the most significant risks on the road and hopefully prevent accidents.

Deaths by Accident and Victim Type

The IIHS breaks down the total number of traffic deaths by the type of victim in the accident.

  • Car occupants were the most common victims, and drivers and passengers accounted for 37% of all fatal accident victims in 2017.
  • There were 858 pedestrian deaths in 2017, accounting for 24% of traffic fatalities that year.
  • The next most commonly affected group for 2017 were pickup truck and SUV drivers. Six hundred forty-two of these driver deaths accounted for 18% of all traffic fatalities in 2017.
  • Motorcyclists represented 15% of traffic deaths with 529 fatalities in 2017.
  • One hundred twenty-four bicyclist deaths accounted for 3% of all traffic fatalities in 2017.
  • There were 41 large truck accident fatalities in 2017, accounting for 1% of total traffic fatalities.
  • 55% of crashes in California in 2017 were single-vehicle collisions with the remaining 45% being multiple-vehicle collisions.
  • In California in 2017, about 61% of all traffic fatalities occurred in urban areas and only 39% occurred on rural roads.

It is important to remember that the fact that car occupants represent the largest share of traffic fatalities does not automatically mean any given person has a higher chance of dying in a traffic accident in a car; there are simply many more of this type of vehicle on the road than any other at any given time.

Common Causes of Fatal Traffic Accidents

The IIHS also reports that the national average of driver impairment in fatal accidents is about 64%. Driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) over .08% is illegal in every state, and in 2017 the IIHS reported that 42% of drivers killed in California had a reportable BAC level over .08%. Driving with any amount of alcohol can be a fatal mistake. Everyone processes and handles alcohol differently, and one drink can have a profoundly higher effect on one person than another. There is an abundance of alternatives to drunk driving available, such as public transit, taxis, and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft.

Distracted driving is another major cause of fatal traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported more than 391,000 injuries and 3,450 deaths from distracted driving in 2015 alone. The California Vehicle Code prohibits drivers from operating motor vehicles while using any type of electronic communication device unless they use a hands-free accessory such as a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone. Manufacturer-installed phone systems are also acceptable. However, texting while driving or using a hand to complete a phone call with a cell phone remains illegal in California.

Preventing Fatal Traffic Accidents

You cannot predict or change the behaviors of other drivers, but you can take steps to reduce the risk of causing a fatal accident yourself or suffering fatal injuries in an accident. Seat belts are one of the most important safety features of any passenger vehicle and can help prevent traffic fatalities. The IIHS reported that 605 or 30% of fatal passenger vehicle accident victims were unrestrained at the time of impact.

Defensive driving is one of the best ways to stay safe on the road. This involves driving at reasonable speeds for current conditions, signaling before turns and lane changes, and keeping to the right whenever and wherever possible. There is no “right” way to drive defensively; the term refers to being aware of surroundings and driving responsibly at all times to reduce the risk of accidents.