Fatalities from Crashes

How many people die on Bay Area roads?

Fatalities from Crashes

Fatalities from crashes refers to deaths as resulting from injuries sustained in automobile collisions. The California Highway Patrol includes deaths within 30 days of the collision that are a result of injuries sustained as part of this metric. Fatalities are measured as an aggregate number (total fatalities) and as a rate (fatalities per 100,000 residents and fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled).

In 2016, over 33,000 traffic crashes resulting in fatalities, major injuries or minor injuries were reported on Bay Area roadways. Fortunately, over 90 percent of those crashes resulted in only minor injuries. However, hundreds of lives are tragically lost every year on our region’s highways, arterials and local streets. While vehicle technology advancements should help to reduce the number of fatal collisions in the coming years, enhancing the safety of our existing roads to save more lives remains a key transportation priority.

Regional Performance
Fatalities from crashes has ticked upwards since 2010, reversing much of the decline seen during the Great Recession.

Annual fatalities from crashes have grown since 2010 – likely a result of increased road activity as our region’s economy has boomed. The past six years mark the first period of sustained growth in road fatalities since the late 1970s, when there were similar conditions during a period of economic growth. Despite the recent adverse trend in fatalities, Bay Area roads are still significantly safer than they in the 1970s and 1980s. This reflects the benefits of improved vehicle safety technologies such as airbags. The long-term decline in fatalities has occurred even as the region’s population and mileage traveled has grown.

Although roads have become increasingly safe for motorists, over one-third of all 2016 traffic fatalities in the Bay Area were vulnerable road users – bicyclists and pedestrians. While improved vehicle safety technologies have managed to reduce fatalities among vehicle occupants, non-motorized travelers since 2011 have experienced higher fatality levels than in decades past.

Read More
Local Focus
San Francisco stands out as an outlier – with one of the lowest fatality rates per capita but one of the highest fatality rates per mile driven.

While Solano, Napa and Sonoma counties unfortunately have had the region’s highest fatality rates on both a per-capita and per-mile basis, fatality rate statistics in San Francisco County are more complicated. On a per-capita basis, San Francisco had the lowest fatality rate of any county in the region in 2016. This reflects the shorter travel distances and slower speeds in the city compared with much of the region. At the same time, per mile driven, San Francisco ranked near the top of the 2016 list for having the most dangerous roads in the region – reflecting San Francisco’s distinctive modal split. Motorists account for the majority of fatalities regionwide, whereas in San Francisco pedestrians and bicyclists account for the majority of fatalities.

National Context
In contrast to the Bay Area’s relatively safe roads, Sunbelt metro areas top the list for highest fatality rates.

Atlanta, Miami, Houston and Dallas top the list of major U.S. metro areas with the highest fatality rates per resident. These metro areas have double the fatality rate of the safest major metro area – New York. The stark difference between the Sunbelt metros and the nation’s most transit-oriented metro is reflective of the former group’s higher travel speeds, greater miles traveled, and higher auto mode share. The Bay Area, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles rank favorably just behind New York for the safest roads among major metro areas, each with just under six traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2015.


California Highway Patrol: Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (2006-2016) – via SafeTREC Transportation Injury Mapping System

National Highway Safety Administration: Fatality Analysis Reporting System (2001-2015)

California Department of Transportation: California Public Road Data/Highway Performance Monitoring System (2001-2016)

California Department of Finance: Population and Housing Estimates

Form E-8 - Historical Population and Housing Estimates (2001-2010)

Form E-5 - Population and Housing Estimates (2011-2016)

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

Population Statistics

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons license), Photographer: Ann Fisher, https://www.flickr.com/photos/yooperann/15783264477

Methodology Notes: 

Fatalities from crashes data is reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the FARS program. Preliminary 2016 data is reported by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS). The data was tabulated using provided categories specifying injury level, individuals involved, causes of collision, and location/jurisdiction of collision (for more: http://tims.berkeley.edu/help/files/switrs_codebook.doc). Latitude and longitude information for each accident is geocoded by SafeTREC’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS). Fatalities were normalized over historic population data from the US Census and American Community Surveys and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) data from the Federal Highway Administration.
The crash data only include crashes that involved a motor vehicle. Bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities that did not involve a motor vehicle, such as a bicyclist and pedestrian collision or a bicycle crash due to a pothole, are not included in the data.
For more regarding reporting procedures and injury classification, refer to the California Highway Patrol Manual (http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa/stateCatalog/states/ca/docs/CA_CHP555_Manual_...).