Car Accident Statistics: California, Kern County, and Bakersfield

February 26, 2024 | Article by Matt Clark | Tips & Information

Car Accident Statistics: California, Kern County, and Bakersfield

Despite our best efforts to prevent traffic accidents, they’re an unfortunate part of our lives. California is known not only for its freeways but also for the traffic that clogs them—and with all that traffic, we have our fair share of motor vehicle crashes.

But how do California, Kern County, and Bakersfield compare to the rest of the United States in terms of car accident statistics? How safe are the roads? In this blog, we take a deep dive into accident stats with data from:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • California’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS)
  • The University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS)

We’ll include the source and year of the statistics in parentheses. For example, if you see a stat followed by “(NHTSA, 2021),” the data were reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2021. Data from 2021 are the most recent for NHTSA and TIMS. The most recent complete data set for SWITRS is from 2019.

Injury and Fatality Rates: U.S. vs. California and Kern County

Probably the best way to compare how safe it is to drive in different areas is to look at injury and fatality rates. There are two common ways to calculate these:

  • Number of injuries or fatalities per 100,000 residents
  • Number of injuries or fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
(NHTSA, 2021)FatalitiesFatalities Per 100,000 PopulationFatalities Per 100 Million VMT
Kern County21122.99n/a

The chart above compares the rate of car crash fatalities in the U.S., California, and Kern County. California’s fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is almost identical to the national rate. But Kern County’s fatality rate per 100,000 residents is nearly double the national rate and more than double California’s rate.

In fact, data for 2017–2021 show that Kern County’s fatality rate per 100,000 population is consistently much higher than the national average—despite California overall having a lower-than-average death rate.

Fatalities Per 100,000 Population

(NHTSA, 2017–2021)
Kern County20.8517.3517.0222.6422.99

What Makes it Dangerous to Drive in Kern County?

The NHTSA’s mission is to make the nation’s roadways safe, so it works to eliminate driving practices that result in motor vehicle accidents and, consequently, property damage, injuries, and deaths.

The NHTSA highlights five “risky driving” practices:

  1. Drunk driving
  2. Drug-impaired driving
  3. Distracted driving (no Kern County statistics)
  4. Speeding
  5. Drowsy driving (no Kern County statistics)

The agency also cites not wearing a seat belt as a contributing factor to car accident injuries and deaths.

So, what do California and Kern County statistics tell us about these factors?

Kern County is the 11th-largest California county, but it ranked eighth for alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2022.

Alcohol-Involved Fatalities and Injuries (SWITRS, 2022)
1Los Angeles1215,929
2San Bernardino1011,755
4San Diego632,411
7San Joaquin53722

In fact, Kern County has much higher than average traffic-related deaths for alcohol-involved crashes, speeding, and seat belt non-use—showing clearly that these traffic law violations make Kern County’s roads more hazardous.

Traffic-Related Deaths in California (TIMS)
Risky Driving Practice20182019202020212022
Kern County4342645652
Kern County1013183313
Kern County3426515041
Seat Belt Non-UseTotal633648774924865
Kern County3627585155
*Average for All California Counties

Bakersfield Car Accident Statistics

The NHTSA tracks accident stats for U.S. cities with populations over 150,000. In 2021, Bakersfield ranked 59th for overall fatality rate per 100,000 residents and 38th for pedestrian fatality rate per 100,00 residents.

The chart below shows how Bakersfield compares to the top 10 worst cities.

Top 10 Worst Cities for Traffic Fatalities Per 100,000 Population (NHTSA, 2021)
1Memphis, TN37.89
2Baton Rouge, LA36.01
3Macon-Bibb County, GA29.98
4Knoxville, TN26.47
5Fort Lauderdale, FL26.42
6St. Louis, MO24.21
7Birmingham, AL23.79
8Detroit, MI23.72
9Albuquerque, NM23.64
10Tucson, AZ20.99
59Bakersfield, CA13.00

Car Accident Statistics FAQ

Who is most likely to be killed in a car crash with injuries?

Statistics from SWITRS show that pedestrians and motorcyclists are more likely to be killed in an injury crash than bicyclists or the occupants of a passenger car.

Persons Killed and Injured in California Car Accidents (SWITRS, 2019)

Are truck drivers the worst drivers on the road?

California collects statistics on who is at fault in car accidents. If a given type of driver causes a lower percentage of accidents, we can assume those drivers perform better on the road than other drivers.

Although truck accidents are often devastating and result in serious injuries, the statistics show that truck drivers are at fault in only 23.6% of the fatal accidents they’re involved in—indicating that truck drivers are perhaps the safest drivers on California roadways.

The chart below shows that motorcyclists are at fault in two-thirds of the fatal crashes they’re involved in—a much higher rate than passenger car or truck drivers.

At-Fault Drivers in California (SWITRS, 2019)
Vehicle TypeFatal CrashesInjury Crashes
Passenger Car49.6%46.6%

What’s the most dangerous time of day to be on the road?

The most dangerous time of day to be on the road in California depends on whether you look at injury or fatality statistics.

Traffic fatalities are spread throughout the day fairly evenly, but the most dangerous time slot is from 6 to 10 p.m.

Traffic Fatalities in California by Time of Day (SWITRS, 2019)
Time of Day10 p.m. to 2 a.m.2 a.m. to 6 a.m.6 a.m. to 10 a.m.10 a.m. to 2 p.m.2 p.m. to 6 p.m.6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Car accident injuries are by far most common during the afternoon rush hour: 3 to 7 p.m.

Traffic Injuries in California by Time of Day (SWITRS, 2019)
Time of Day3 a.m. to 7 a.m.7 a.m. to 11 a.m.11 a.m. to 3 p.m.3 p.m. to 7 p.m.7 p.m. to 11 p.m.11 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Is it more dangerous to drive in the city or in the country?

The roads in California’s cities are more congested, but traffic fatalities are actually more common on rural roads. This disparity is probably due to drivers traveling at higher speeds on rural roads.

The chart below compares the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on urban versus rural roads.

California Traffic Fatalities Per 100 Million VMT (NHTSA)
Road Type20172018201920202021

Chain | Cohn| Clark studied TIMS data and determined the 10 most dangerous intersections in Bakersfield.

What distractions cause the most car accident injuries and deaths?

California statistics show that using a mobile phone—even hands-free—is the most dangerous distracting activity while you’re driving, causing 19 deaths and 840 injuries in 2019.

Adjusting the radio or other electronic equipment is a close second. But other activities and occupants can be distracting—for example, eating, applying makeup, or calming a crying child.

Distracted Driving Fatalities and Injuries in California (SWITRS, 2019)
Cell phone (handheld)17607
Cell phone (hands-free)2233
Radio or other electronics10560
Hygiene (e.g., makeup)30
Distraction not recorded224802

Bakersfield Car Accident Attorneys

The experienced car accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark have helped thousands of people receive fair compensation for injury or wrongful death claims stemming from accidents caused by other drivers. If another driver’s carelessness resulted in an accident that left you or a family member injured, our attorneys can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Contact us today for a no-obligation, free consultation.