Fatalities from crashes has ticked upwards since 2010, reversing much of the decline seen during the Great Recession.
Fatalities from crashes dropped precipitously by more than a third during the Great Recession. Since then, however, fatalities have almost surpassed levels seen before the Great Recession. This increase is not just due to the fact that more miles are being driven on the road. In fact, we also see that fatalities per vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have also been increasing since the early 2010s. This means that not only are fatalities from crashes rising, but the rate at which fatalities occur with respect to miles driven has also been increasing. Additionally, over one-third of all Bay Area 2020 traffic fatalities were vulnerable road users - bicyclists and pedestrians. While improved vehicle safety technologies have managed to reduce fatalities among vehicle occupants during the past few decades, non-motorized travelers have experienced higher shares of overall fatality than in decades prior.
In recent years (between 2010 and 2020), Bay Area fatalities from crashes increased by 48%
Over the long term (between 1990 and 2020) Bay Area fatalities from crashes decreased by 29%
Historical Trend for Fatalities from Crashes
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.
Napa, Contra Costa and Solano counties had the region’s highest fatality rates on a per-capita basis in 2020, whereas Napa, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties had the regions highest fatality rates on a per-mile basis in 2020.
The data for San Francisco County has a more complicated story. On a per-capita basis, San Francisco had the lowest fatality rate of any county in the region in 2020. This reflects the shorter travel distances and slower speeds in the city compared with much of the region. We also note that in 2020, 42% of crash fatalities in San Francisco were bicyclists or pedestrians, the highest rate of all Bay Area counties.
of fatalities in San Francisco were bicyclists or pedestrians in 2020
Fatalities from Crashes by Case
In contrast to the Bay Area’s relatively safe roads, Sunbelt metro areas top the list for highest fatality rates.
Miami, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston top the list of major U.S. metro areas with the highest fatality rates per resident. These metro areas have nearly triple 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 typically higher travel speeds, greater miles traveled and higher auto mode share. The Bay Area, Washington and Los Angeles rank favorably just behind New York for the safest roads among major metro areas, each with around six traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2020.
In 2020, people were killed in crashes on Miami roadways at a rate of 12.5 persons for every 100,000 residents
Metro Comparison for Fatalities from Crashes (2020)
Sources & Methodology
Fatalities from crashes data is reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) program. Data for individual collisions 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 information refer to the SWITRS codebook). For case data, 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 Bureau’s population estimates 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 CHP Manual.
National Highway Safety Administration: Fatality Analysis Reporting System
Caltrans: Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS)
Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)
California Department of Finance: E-4 Historical Population Estimates for Cities, Counties, and the State
US Census Population and Housing Unit Estimates