The major industries in Oklahoma – oil and gas, agriculture, and manufacturing – rely on road transportation to move their products out of the state and around the country. Although Oklahoma can’t compete with the populations of California and New York, the Sooner State is not far behind in highway miles, ranking 14th in the country.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s vast and busy highway network means that vehicle crashes are a frequent occurrence, sometimes with deadly consequences. The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office publishes comprehensive data on vehicle crash locations, causes and persons involved. These are just some of the fascinating, but grim statistics about fatalities from vehicle crashes in Oklahoma.
2021 Oklahoma Fatal Vehicle Crash Statistics
The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office has reported these “quick facts” for 2021 fatal vehicle crashes:
- There were 762 traffic fatalities, a significant increase from 654 fatalities in 2020.
- Of the persons who lost their lives, 259 were not wearing seat belts.
- There were a total of 407 fatalities involving alcohol and drugs. A further breakdown of these numbers reveals that 108 of the fatalities involved only alcohol, 212 involved only drugs, and 87 involved both alcohol and drugs.
- 76 motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2021. Of these, over 50% were not wearing helmets.
- Young drivers under the age of 21 made up 95 of the total number of fatalities.
- 104 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, as were 13 cyclists.
- One person was killed in a vehicle crash involving a train.
Oklahoma Drivers’ Attitudes Towards Risky Driving Behaviors
Attitudes about what drivers should and shouldn’t do while on the road affect traffic safety and the number of vehicle crashes that result in serious injury or death. In a 2021 online survey, 500 Oklahoma residents responded to a series of questions about traffic safety.
- Fortunately, the majority of Oklahomans surveyed were committed to using restraints, with
more than 93% of respondents reporting they always wore a seatbelt.
- When responses were broken down by age, 100% of drivers surveyed between the ages of 18-24 reported they always wore a seatbelt, but only 86% of 25-34 year olds did.
- Motorcyclists in the surveyed group were asked about risky behaviors when driving. When the motorcyclists admitted to engaging in risky behaviors, the majority reported doing so “once or twice” in the past 30 days. The most common risky behavior reported was driving without a helmet (20.6%).
- Motorcyclists also reported riding after drinking alcohol (10.7% of motorcyclists surveyed) driving faster than five miles over the speed limit (20.1%), splitting lanes (13.7%) and using a phone or radio (14.6%).
- Car and truck drivers were also asked about risky driving behaviors within the past 60 days. A very small percentage of respondents reported driving after drinking 3-5 times (2.5%) or 1-2 times (6.1%).
- A number of car and truck drivers reported speeding in the past 60 days: driving over 35 mph in a 30 mph zone more than half the time (9.3%) or driving over 75 mph in a 70 mph zone (14%).
- Using phones while driving is considered an extremely risky form of distracted driving. Since 2015, it has been illegal in Oklahoma to text while driving. The survey respondents reported in the last 30 days that they had used a hands-free cellular device (49.2%) talked on a hand-held phone (23.8%), used a phone to send a text or email (19.3%), used a phone to take a photo or video (10.4%), did social media updates (6.5%) or engaged in video chat (4.9%).
- Men were much more likely than women to engage in risky behavior with cellular devices across every category.
Oklahoma Drivers and Seat Belts
A visual study of drivers, passengers and seat belt use was conducted by the University of Central Oklahoma in 2021.
- The survey revealed large disparities in safety belt use between different areas of the state. The counties with the highest level of seatbelt use were Cleveland (87.9%), Payne (87.8%), Rogers (87.1%), Garfield (85.8%), and Tulsa (85.5%). Conversely, counties with the lowest use of safety belts were Muskogee (61.0%), Sequoyah (62.2%), Caddo (63.2%), Seminole (69.9%), and Pontotoc (76.8%).
- Occupants of pickup trucks were least likely to wear seatbelts compared to cars and SUVs.
- Drivers were overall less likely to be wearing safety belts than passengers.
Oklahoma Drivers and Child Safety Seats
Oklahoma has had comprehensive laws about the use of child safety seats since 2015. The law applies to all children under the age of 8. Children under 2 years old must be in a rear-facing car seat, and children between the ages of 2 and 4 must be in a front-facing car seat. Children ages 4 to 8 must be in a car seat or booster seat (or until the child is taller than four feet, nine inches.
A 2021 survey of Oklahoma drivers showed the vast majority used child safety seats:
- The rate of child safety seat use with drivers surveyed in both rural and metropolitan areas was 91.8%. When measured individually, metropolitan areas scored slightly higher at 92.1%.
- When measured by region, the Southeast (94.4%), the Oklahoma City Metro area (93.8%) and Oklahoma City (92.4%) had the highest compliance rate with child safety seats. The areas with the lowest rates were the Southwest (87.4%), Northwest (89.1%) and Tulsa Metro (90.9%).
Fatal Vehicle Crashes in Oklahoma in 2020
In 2020, the deadliest day of the week for vehicle crashes in Oklahoma was Monday. The deadliest month was October. And the deadliest times of day were between 3:30- 3:59 PM and 5:00 – 5:59 PM.
- There were a total of 654 fatalities in Oklahoma from vehicle crashes in 2020, an increase of 2.2% from the previous year.
- The majority of fatal crashes – 324 – involved a single vehicle. Two hundred and thirty-two involved two vehicles, and 34 involved three vehicles.
- Nearly 60% of fatal crashes occurred in rural areas.
- Oklahoma City reported the most fatal vehicle crashes (77), followed by Tulsa (58) and Norman (12).
- Outside of major cities, the most fatal vehicle crashes occurred in Cleveland (31), Canadian (26) and Mayes (18) counties.
- Marshall and Jefferson counties had the highest number of vehicle crash fatalities per million VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled).
- Jefferson also had one of the highest number of vehicle crash fatalities per 5000 people, along with Beaver County.
- The type of road with the most fatal crashes was city street, at 134. However, rural highways and interstate highways made up a much larger portion of total fatal crashes – nearly 300.
The single most deadly day for Oklahoma roads in 2020 was September 25, when in 24 hours, four women and three men tragically lost their lives in four separate vehicle crashes. Alcohol and drugs and a lack of safety equipment all contributed to the casualties. Three of the crashes involved drugs or alcohol use. Four of the victims were not wearing seat belts, and one driver, a motorcyclist, was not wearing a helmet.
Factors in Oklahoma Vehicle Crashes
According to Oklahoma Public Safety, three major factors in fatal vehicle crashes are alcohol use, unsafe speeds and type of vehicle.
- With the increasing use of recreational marijuana, the penalties for “drunk driving” also include impairment due to the use of a Schedule 1 drug.
- A driver can be charged with DWI (driving while impaired) if their BAC is higher than .05% and less than .08%.
- Like many other states, the legal limit for driving is a BAC of .08%, and the driver can be charged with DUI (driving under the influence).
- Young drivers are not permitted to have any amount of alcohol before driving. If a driver under 21 is found to have any amount of alcohol in their system, they can be charged with Driving Under the Influence Under 21.
- If a driver is pulled over and a breath or blood test shows they have a BAC of more than .15%, the charge is Aggravated Driving Under the Influence.
- In 2020, there were 199 fatalities in vehicle crashes that involved alcohol – a 20% increase from 2019.
Speeding also played a part in a significant number of vehicle crash deaths, with 185 fatalities involving unsafe speeds.
Some types of vehicles are indicated in having a high risk of fatal crashes. In Oklahoma, this includes large trucks and motorcycles. In 2020, there were 75 large trucks involved in crashes with fatalities, and 62 motorcycles. Only one fatality involved a train. Sadly pedestrians and people on bicycles could also not escape vehicle fatalities, with 86 victims on foot and 12 victims on two wheels.
Although many people would associate dangerous driving conditions with darkness and poor weather, the majority of vehicle crashes in Oklahoma in 2020 occurred in daylight, and in clear conditions. A relatively small number of vehicles crashed in sleet, snow or fog.
If you are involved in a vehicle crash, we are here to help. Contact us or call 918-359-6600 today for a free case review.