Auto Insurance Center logo
(844) 777-5466
  • 21st Century
  • Elephant
  • Esurance
  • Mercury

2nd Annual Study of America's Fatal Crash Causes

Americans love their cars so it's not a surprise that we spend a significant part of our day on the road. While we are aware of the dangers that come with driving, many of us go into autopilot as soon as we get behind the wheel. Automobile accidents happen, yet we don’t expect to be involved in one.

Because we have analyzed car crash statistics in the past, we used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to provide an updated report on fatal crash causes and broke the data further down by state. Continue reading to see what we found.

Unsafe and Careless Driving

Most of us probably consider ourselves to be safe drivers. Unfortunately, not everyone is. Some individuals can be reckless and downright dangerous on the road, putting everyone around them at risk. This type of driving behavior has only increased with the use of technology, which has led to higher rates of distracted drivers on the road.

Regarding careless and reckless driving behavior, Montana had the greatest number of fatalities due to this type of driving – 108 fatalities per 100,000 residents. A common behavior cited in crash deaths in Montana was a lack of seat belt use, in addition to speeding and alcohol consumption. The next state to have the highest fatalities due to careless and reckless driving was Arkansas (86 fatalities).

The states with the least number of deaths caused by dangerous driving were Virginia (1.42 fatalities), New York (2.01 fatalities), Indiana (2.14 fatalities) and California (2.84 fatalities).

Reasons for Fatal Crashes

Not all fatal car crashes are caused by the same type of driving. There are various reasons why a car veers off course and careens into another vehicle. Sometimes, accidents are caused by an improper lane change or distracted driving. Other times, accidents happen because of road rage. All of them can end in tragedy.

Fatal car crashes caused by road rage were the most prevalent in Indiana (almost 13 fatalities per 100,000 residents). Improper lane change was most commonly cited in Delaware (nearly eight fatalities), and failure to keep to a lane happened the most often in Mississippi (about 93 fatalities) and Wyoming (90 fatalities).

Finally, Alabama had the most fatal car crashes caused by police pursuit (about 2.5 fatalities).  

Drunk Driving, by State

Sadly, drunk driving is a common occurrence on the road. In fact, the CDC reports that 28 people die every day in the United States because of vehicle crashes involving alcohol.

According to the data, the worst states for alcohol-related crash fatalities include Wyoming (93 fatalities per 100,000 residents) and Montana (86 fatalities). On the other end of the spectrum, Massachusetts (6 fatalities) and New York (almost 9 fatalities) had the least number of alcohol-related vehicle deaths.

These statistics may seem surprising; however, Montana allowed driving with open alcohol containers up until 2005. While open containers are no longer legal to have while driving (unless you plan to lock them up in the glove box), Montana is still battling a strong social trend of drinking and driving.


Drivers Who Speed and Race

Hopefully, most drivers try to stay, within reason, close to the speed limit, but there are drivers who engage in high-risk speeding and racing. This is an extremely dangerous choice – in 2014, more than 9,200 lives were claimed by speeding-related accidents.

Wyoming (nearly 86 fatalities per 100,000 residents) and Montana (about 84 fatalities) unfortunately reappeared on this list for the top states with the highest number of speeding- and racing-related fatalities. The states with the least number of speeding- and racing-related deaths were New Jersey (almost 12 fatalities) and the District of Columbia (just under 12 fatalities).

Risky Driving Changes

Comparing states that had the biggest changes in careless and reckless driving deaths, we found that North Carolina experienced the largest increase in driving fatalities from 2014 to 2015 – it had 408 more fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Along with careless and reckless driving, some people also speed. Of the states that saw an increase in speeding and racing-related deaths, Montana and Maine were the worst. Thankfully, many states saw a decrease in this type of driving behavior.

Changes in drunk driving rates can be traced back to many sources. These include public safety initiatives, such as sobriety checkpoints, and social factors. Several of the states we analyzed had some increases in drunk driving accidents resulting in fatalities. The states with the highest increases include Arkansas, Oregon and Arizona.

Crash Deaths Over Time

Death rates per state can change over time, as well. Some states have seen an increase in crash fatalities over the years, while others have thankfully seen a decrease. Over the past 10 years, states that saw the biggest increases in speeding and racing crash deaths included Florida (22.5 percent) and Arizona (10.3 percent).

The states with the greatest percentage increases in careless and reckless crash deaths were Georgia (6.5 percent), Hawaii (5.1 percent) and Florida (5 percent). Finally, the states with the greatest increases in percentage of alcohol-related crash deaths were Oregon (.71 percent), North Dakota (.58 percent) and Iowa (.41 percent).

Weather and Driving

Weather has a big influence on car crash fatalities. Everyone knows that driving in icy conditions is a recipe for disaster.

When it came to foggy conditions, West Virginia had the most crash fatalities (5.5), while Mississippi had the most rain-related deaths (30.3). Sleet-related vehicle deaths were the highest in South Dakota (2.8) and Nebraska (2.4). Further, Wyoming had the most car crash fatalities due to snowy conditions (20.6).

Specific Weather Worries

Drivers across the country often have to deal with rain while they drive, and in some states, snow as well. Which type of weather has caused more fatal accidents since 2005?

While rain causes more fatalities in most states, including all of the South and Northeast, six states in the Midwest and West are affected more by snow. No matter which type of weather affects your state most, it’s important to drive carefully.


Driving can be something that carries you from Point A to Point B, but it can also be dangerous. Each state is unique in its social climate, weather patterns and public safety objectives. By better understanding the issues in your area, you can protect yourself from common accident-causing dangers. It can be a dark subject to discuss, but it won’t get better without awareness. Protect yourself by becoming informed and knowing how to drive safely.


We collected each fatal crash occurring between 2005 and 2015 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. We aggregated data on fatal accidents by state, studying the causes that contribute to these driving disasters.


NOTE: If you're a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page so that your audience can learn more about our work. If you'd like to discuss this project, or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected].