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Car Crashes Kill 40,000 in U.S. Every Year

Imagine a plane full of people crashing, killing everyone on board, every single day. That’s how many people die on America’s roads daily, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Motor vehicle crashes in the United States result in more than 40,000 deaths per year,” says the Institute in the journal Injury Prevention. “That is, on each of the 6,209 consecutive days included in this study, an equivalent of a plane load or more of people died on the roads.”

But not all days are alike. Weekends are worse than weekdays, summer and fall months have more deadly crashes than winter or spring months, and holidays top the list for crash deaths.

The Institute studied U.S. Department of Transportation data from 1986-2002. Information covered crashes on public roads resulting in a death within 30 days, including pedestrian deaths.

On average, more than 100 people per day died in car crashes in the U.S. The death toll for a single day can range from 45 to 252 people, say the researchers.

July Fourth had the highest number of crash deaths (161). It had an average of 12 more deaths than any other day of the year. This day also had a high number of deaths involving alcohol.

The second worst day was July 3, with 149 crash deaths. Six of the 10 worst days clustered around holidays — July 2-4, Dec. 23, Jan. 1, and Sept. 2 (on or near Labor Day).

The other four days all occurred in August, which had more vehicle travel than any other month. In contrast, the 10 days of the year which averaged the fewest crash deaths were in January and February. These months had the lightest road traffic.

Evenings and weekends were the deadliest times on the roads. The worst hours were from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with each averaging 6.6 deaths per hour. By far, Saturday had the most deaths (158). Next came Friday (133 deaths). Sunday was a close third (132 deaths). Tuesday had the least fatalities (95).

Alcohol may partly explain why nights, weekends, and holidays had more crash fatalities. For instance, almost half of New Year’s Day deaths involved alcohol impairment.

Pedestrians account for nearly 13 percent of all crash deaths, say the researchers. New Year’s Day and Halloween (Oct. 31) had the highest average pedestrian death rates — each averaging 24 pedestrian deaths. All the other days with at least 20 pedestrian deaths happened from October through December. The day of the year with the fewest pedestrian deaths was March 11 (11 deaths per day).

About 7 percent of crash deaths were among motorcyclists. June, July, and August accounted for 41 percent of motorcyclist deaths.

Many people think they won’t be affected, believing their driving skills are superior. But that can’t be true, since “almost everyone is a driver,” says the Institute’s Charles Farmer, and colleagues.

They hope to jolt people out of their false sense of security.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Farmer, C. Injury Prevention, vol 11; pp 18-23. BMJ Specialist Journals.