About 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from a vehicle leaving the roadway and hitting a fixed object such as a tree or utility pole alongside the road. Alcohol is a frequent contributing factor in these crashes. Motorists also run off the road because of excessive speed, falling asleep, or inattention.
More men than women die each year in motor vehicle crashes. Men typically drive more miles than women and more often engage in risky driving practices including not using seat belts, driving while impaired by alcohol, and speeding. Crashes involving male drivers often are more severe than those involving female drivers. However, in crashes of equal severity, females are more likely than males to be killed or injured.
Less than two percent of motor vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists. The most serious injuries among a majority of those killed are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent.1 Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have helmet laws applying to young bicyclists; none of these laws applies to all riders.
Motor vehicle crashes account for less than 1 percent of fatalities among people 70 and older; heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death. People ages 70 and older are less likely to be licensed to drive compared with younger people, and drivers 70 and older also drive fewer miles. However, older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past. A total of 4,598 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2007. This is 22 percent fewer than in 1997 when deaths peaked, but a 22 percent increase since 1975. The rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 35 percent since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.